Alaska’s government formally nominated the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and Cook Inlet for inclusion in the 2017-22 federal Outer Continental Shelf management program being prepared by the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The action is necessary to assure that one lease sale in each area remain in the program, Gov. Bill Walker (I) said in an Oct. 6 letter to US Sec. of the Interior Sally Jewell.
The state continues to strongly encourage BOEM and Interior to avoid delaying OCS leasing in the three areas, Walker said. “There is sufficient information available, collected from years of data gathering and traditional knowledge, about these planning areas to proceed with activities that comply with defined mitigation and environmental stipulations designed to relieve adverse impacts,” he said.
Much of that information was done with the help of Arctic coastal communities, Walker noted. “Importantly, the North Slope Borough supports leasing so long as the process provides the highest levels of protection and benefits. The proposed program achieves this standard,” he told Jewell.
BOEM’s proposed 2017-22 OCS program includes a lease sale in each of the three areas Walker mentioned. The agency scheduled them for later in the 5-year period “to provide additional opportunity to evaluate and obtain information regarding environmental issues, subsistence use needs, and infrastructure capabilities, as well as results from any exploration or development activity associated with existing leases,” according to information at its web site.
“Scheduling lease sales is incredibly important to ensure the long-term financial health of Alaska, including making sure we can balance our budget,” Walker said. “We are very cognizant of ensuring that safeguards are in place to protect subsistence activities.”
Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Commissioner Andy Mack said, “We will continue to work with Arctic stakeholders, the federal government, and our Congressional delegation to ensure Alaskans can see economic progress in the Arctic. Many safeguards are in place to protect subsistence activities and to allow development in the OCS.”
Alaska receives financial and economic benefits from leasing on the federal OCS off its coast in terms of employment opportunities and revenue from bonuses, rents, and royalties, the state officials said. It also is working with the North Slope Borough to ensure their mutual interests in responsible development are protected, they said.
“North Slope Borough residents are directly impacted by activities in the Arctic OCS and we will always strive to protect subsistence,” said North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower. “We can support leasing in the OCS so long as the federal government provides the necessary protections and benefits to our communities. To that end, the North Slope Borough assembly endorsed eight policies for offshore oil and gas development. We intend to work with the state on these issues going forward.”
Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott (D) met with North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower and Arctic Slope Regional Corp. Chief Executive Rex Rock in late September to discuss appropriate safeguards and benefits from Arctic OCS oil and gas development, the governor’s office said. Alaska’s DNR and the borough continue to work through a formal memorandum of understanding to collaborate on resource development in the Arctic, it noted.
US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.) applauded Walker’s action. “While officials in the Obama administration have mistakenly claimed that there is limited interest in developing our OCS, Alaska’s oil and gas managers are busy proving that notion wrong, as they lease to companies in state waters for fields that extend into federal waters,” she said.
“I continue to find it stunning how difficult it has been to convince the Obama administration that offshore oil and gas development is not only widely supported by Alaskans, but also can be done while protecting our environment,” Murkowski said. “The governor’s announcement today is another positive step in our multiyear effort to ensure that new federal lease sales occur in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas as soon as possible.”
Contact Nick Snow at firstname.lastname@example.org.