BOEMRE releases revised draft SEIS for Chukchi Sea lease sale

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, May 23 -- The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement released a revised draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) on May 20 for Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193. The revised draft SEIS addresses concerns a federal court in Alaska raised when it remanded the February 2008 sale back to the agency on July 21, 2010, BOEMRE said.

“This revised draft SEIS offers additional scientific, environmental and technical analysis that will assist in future decisions pertaining to the leases issued in Sale 193 in the Chukchi Sea,” BOEMRE Director Michael R. Bromwich said. The agency is accepting additional comments before the document becomes final, he added.

The court’s decision came in response to a legal challenge by environmental and Alaska Native organizations. The US District Court for Alaska did not require a completely new environmental impact statement for the lease sale but asked that BOEMRE address specific concerns, BOEMRE said. It said it drafted an SEIS to address these concerns, and made that draft available for public comment in October 2010. The revised draft SEIS addresses specific issues that the court raised as well as incorporating additional public comments, it indicated.

It said the new document includes an analysis of potential environmental impacts of a very large oil spill scenario but does not address whether more environmental analysis is needed with regard to future leasing and permitting actions in the Arctic.

That led environmental organizations to immediately attack the revised draft SEIS. Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said on May 20 that BOEMRE “determined ‘that while many statements of incomplete or unavailable information were broadly relevant to the important issues at hand, none were essential for a reasoned choice among alternatives.’”

She continued, “The draft SEIS concludes that hundreds of pieces of missing information are not necessary before moving forward on Chukchi Sea oil leases. This is like telling a gourmet chef to cook with a recipe that omits all the ingredients.”

Pacific Environment, a San Francisco-based organization that works extensively in Alaska, also said BOEMRE concluded that not a single piece of missing information the agency has identified must be obtained before the Chukchi Sea is committed to oil leases. “But the draft is missing important elements,” it said. “The US Geological Survey has recently completed a report identifying important missing information in the Arctic Ocean. That report is about to be published. BOEMRE clearly will have to incorporate the findings of its own science experts before completing its analysis.”

US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.), the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking minority member, welcomed the revised draft SEIS’s release. “It’s my hope that this additional analysis on the potential impacts on the region will help resolve the legal challenges that have held up resource exploration in the Chukchi Sea,” she said on May 20. “There’s still a lot of process yet to occur, but this is a step in the right direction.”

Companies bid $2.7 billion to lease 2.8 million acres of the Chukchi Sea about 70 miles off Alaska’s northwest coast in February 2008, with Shell Oil Co. high bidder at $2.1 billion, she noted. The federal judge in the case has ordered BOEMRE to complete its new analysis by Oct. 3, Murkowski said. “The revised SEIS, along with the new deadline, improves the chances that Shell will be able to explore the Chukchi next summer,” she said. “That in itself is good news.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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