Final, Deficient Environmental Analysis for Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193 Released

Aug 8, 2011

Analysis Does Not Address Court’s Concerns

Today the Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) released a final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Chukchi Sea that dismisses the need for additional scientific information before allowing drilling in the Arctic Ocean, according to The Wilderness Society.  The U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska in July 2010 required BOEMRE to develop the revised SEIS to address – and fill, if possible – data gaps important to lease sale decision-making.  The Wilderness Society, other conservation organizations, and tribal organizations were plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“Unfortunately, BOEMRE has chosen to ignore the court’s requirement to determine if the missing ecological information would result in a different lease-sale decision.  A sister agency to BOEMRE at the Department of the Interior, the US Geological Survey, stressed the importance of filling data gaps prior to decision-making in a comprehensive Arctic Ocean science report released this summer,” said licensed engineer and The Wilderness Society’s Arctic Program Director, Lois Epstein.

The Chukchi Sea is a near-pristine portion of the Arctic Ocean which does not yet have any oil production.  The coastline abutting the Chukchi is among the most remote in Alaska, but the residents of several Native coastal villages rely on the ocean’s resources for subsistence and to maintain their age-old Inupiat culture.

Shell, which leased the right to drill in the Chukchi in 2008, currently is trying to stop and respond to an oil spill from a pipeline in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland.  Extreme weather conditions, not unlike those found in the Chukchi Sea, are hampering the company’s efforts to address the spill.

“Shell’s North Sea pipeline spill highlights the difficulties of stopping and responding to offshore spills in shallow water under adverse weather conditions.  Shell’s spill response staff can’t operate under those conditions, or the much worse icy Arctic conditions, without putting themselves in danger.  Adverse weather and ice floes are an all-too-common situation in the Chukchi,” added Epstein.

“The Bush Administration leased areas in the Chukchi to Shell and others prematurely, without an adequate scientific baseline, without identification of critical ecological areas, and without any spill response capability that could be counted on to prevent spill impacts.  With publication of this problematic SEIS, the Obama Administration makes clear that it has not deviated from a path that could lead to horrific consequences for the Arctic Ocean and its coastal residents,” said Epstein.

Lois Epstein, P.E.
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