Federal authorities are seeking public comment through Dec. 17 on plans of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to prepare an environmental impact statement in support of a potential 2019 oil and gas lease sale in the Beaufort Sea.
Inclusion of the proposed sale in the Interior Department’s draft proposed program and publication of a notice of intent to prepare an EIS in the Federal Register do not mean a final decision to hold a lease sale has been made. BOEM officials said that information gathered during the public comment period would help them to prepare the EIS, which in turn would inform a final decision on whether or not to hold the proposed sale.
First responders to the announcement of the forthcoming EIS came from the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit entity focused on protecting the lands, waters and climate needed for human beings, wildlife and plant life to survive.
“Trump’s rush toward Arctic offshore drilling is scary,” said Kristen Monsell, ocean legal director with the Center. An oil spill in the Beaufort Sea could devastate arctic wildlife and would be impossible to clean up, she said. “Tapping offshore Arctic oil would lock in climate chaos around the world, and further threaten polar bears, ice seals and other animals whose habitat is already melting away.”
James J. Kendall, director of BOEM’s Alaska region, said the agency especially needs to hear from residents of Beaufort Sea communities on how the proposed leasing area is currently being used and what specific areas need extra attention. Kendall said that to address these issues the agency would use science and traditional knowledge along with other input received in this early step of the leasing process.
The area identified for the potential lease sale includes the entire Beaufort Sea outer continental shelf planning area. It stretches from the three-nautical-mile limit of Alaska submerged lands northward to attitude 75 degrees north on the west side, and to latitude 74 degrees north on the east side. It extends from longitude 156 degrees west, roughly north of the village of Utqiagvik, on the west to the Canadian maritime boundary on the east.
The Interior Department’s 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Draft Proposed Program proposes lease sales in the Beaufort Sea in 2019, 2021 and 2023.
The last BOEM lease sale for the Beaufort Sea was held in April 2007 and resulted in 90 blocks being leased, bringing in over $42 million to the federal treasury.
BOEM officials said they plan public meetings and will be accepting comments through the website www.regulations.gov.
More information is online at www.boem.gov/beauufort2019.