BOEMRE issues draft SEIS for Chukchi Sea lease sale

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 14 -- The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement released a draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) of Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193 on Oct. 12 that the agency said addresses issues a federal district court in Alaska raised in a July 21 ruling. An environmental organization immediately said the draft SEIS still doesn’t answer important questions about the February 2008 lease sale’s impacts.

BOEMRE said the draft SEIS, which will analyze specific issues raised by the court, does not address whether additional environmental analysis should be undertaken with regard to future leasing and permitting actions. “It follows a careful review of the issues raised by US District Court for Alaska, and is a step in that process,” Director Michael R. Bromwich said. “But more review is yet to come that looks at the Arctic region as a whole.”

The draft SEIS is available online. BOEMRE plans to publish a notice about it in the Oct. 15 Federal Register and begin accepting public comments from that time until Nov. 30. It also plans to hold public hearings in Anchorage and communities close to Sale 193’s area, and will complete a final EIS once it has reviewed all comments.

One organization responded quickly. “BOEMRE’s hasty preparation of a supplemental EIS within a few weeks of the court’s decision shows that BOEMRE is just the same old Minerals Management Service under another name—and it still stinks,” said Carole Holley, Alaska co-director for Pacific Environment.

“The bureau is continuing to rush forward with dangerous oil and gas activities with only a cursory environmental review,” she continued. “If we are to believe that there’s going to be any real ‘reform’ in our government after the Deepwater Horizon debacle and thus have any faith in so-called environmental regulators such as [US Interior] Sec. [Ken] Salazar, we need BOEMRE to do more than just rubber stamp the oil and gas industry’s desires.”

A coalition of environmental groups and Alaska Native communities sued following the 2008 lease sale. The federal district court for Alaska remanded it back to BOEMRE on July 21 after finding that the sale’s original EIS did not analyze the environmental impacts of developing natural gas despite industry incentives and specific lease incentives for development. It also ruled that the EIS failed to determine whether missing information that the agency, which was then known as MMS, was relevant or essential; or if costs for obtaining such information were exorbitant, or the means for doing so were unknown, according to BOEMRE.

Holley contended that BOEMRE is superficially meeting the federal district court’s order while leaving important information gaps about species such as the bowhead whale, an endangered species which she said is the cornerstone of the Inupiat Native group’s subsistence culture. The agency is also moving forward without critical US Geological Survey data which won’t be released until April 2011, she said.

“Pacific Environment calls on Sec. Salazar to direct BOEMRE to take into consideration the USGS process, to actually identify and obtain important missing information, and issue a thoughtful revised draft SEIS that analyzes the lease sale in light of the newly acquired information,” she said, adding, “Only then will the public know that [Interior] and BOEMRE are taking the lessons of the gulf spill—and the court’s decision—seriously.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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