Salazar arrives in Alaska for off-shore drilling hearing

Today is a big day in Anchorage. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is in town to gather input to inform his agency’s decisions about opening the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to energy development. Anchorage is home base to many major oil companies that operate on Alaska’s North Slope, so we expect a big turnout from both pro-development interests as well as those who are concerned about the environmental impacts of oil development in Alaska’s pristine waters.

After opening remarks, the Secretary and Interior agency staff will present a brief overview of the Department's findings regarding Outer Continental Shelf energy resources. The rest of the meeting will be devoted to hearing from public and private interests on best approaches to developing a comprehensive offshore energy plan, including the development of traditional and renewable sources of energy on the OCS. Upon arrival each attendee will be asked to submit a comment card. In addition, all attendees who wish to deliver comments orally will be offered an opportunity to do so, time permitting.

The Wilderness Society is prepared to give testimony, but we will give our partners a chance to speak first. That includes people from native and fishing communities who will be directly impacted by any offshore development. If we do speak, here are some points we expect to make:

  1. Science should be the basis for coastal policy. Any new five-year plan should include a study to assess current environmental baseline information and the impacts of leasing, exploration, and development on ocean ecosystems and on coastal economies.
  2. Offshore oil and gas activities like seismic testing would directly impact Native Communities and marine wildlife along the Arctic coast. These communities depend on the wildlife resources of the Beaufort & Chukchi Seas for cultural and nutritional subsistence, and they should be protected.
  3. Oil spills are likely and there is currently no way to adequately respond to oil spills in the Arctic Ocean especially in broken ice conditions. Federal agencies say there is a 33 to 55 percent chance for a large Arctic Ocean oil spill. Ice-breakers, platforms, and under-water pipelines all pose unknown hazards in the Arctic’s ice laden and harsh weather conditions.
  4. Bering Sea and Arctic ecosystems are already under stress from climate change. Scientists have demonstrated that warming temperatures have already had significant and unprecedented effects on these regions. Any further stress, such as offshore oil and gas activities, will exacerbate these threats to the integrity and resilience of the ecosystem.
  5. Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling in the North Aleutian Basin threatens Bristol Bay’s Economy and Ecosystem: Offshore oil and gas development poses tremendous risks to the sea life, Native communities, and fishing livelihoods that are dependent upon a healthy marine ecosystem. The fisheries alone are worth over $2 billion a year, sustaining thousands of fishermen, processors and workers in affiliated jobs.

Stay tuned for another update later in the day.