NOAA seeks feedback on draft EIS on the effects of oil and gas activities in the Arctic

By Brien Southward

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released a draft of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the effects of oil and gas activities in the Arctic Ocean. The study also considers the impact of exploratory activities, such as seismic surveys and exploratory drilling.

According to the NOAA’s statement, the report, which focuses on the effects of oil and gas exploration activities on the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, “analyzes a range of management alternatives to assist [the National Marine Fisheries Service] and [the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management] in carrying out their statutory responsibilities to authorize or permit these activities within the five year period of 2012 through 2017.”

The “statutory responsibilities” in question include the permits and authorizations issued by BOEM for seismic surveys and NMFS’s incidental take authorizations (ITAs) under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. BOEM is also responsible for issuing geological and geophysical permits before certain exploration activities can take place.

According to the report, plans to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas will cause “minor to moderate” impacts to the rare bowhead and beluga whale species, even despite the possibility of a spill like Deepwater Horizon without the same resources to clean it up. In addition to outlining the possible impacts of drilling and exploration activities, it also considers mitigation measures for minimizing the impact on the marine environment.

If adopted, the measures outlined in the EIS could reduce the effects on marine mammals, which would also ensure they remain available to the communities that depend on them. Eric Schwaab, assistant NOAA administrator for its Fisheries Service, said that they “know how important marine mammals are to healthy Arctic ecosystems and the people who depend on them for food and cultural traditions.”

NOAA invites public comment on the draft EIS through February 13, and will hold a series of public meetings in eight North Slope communities through January and February. After considering public comment received during the 45-day window, the NOAA will finalize the EIS.

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