NOAA, BOEM plan supplemental Arctic oil, gas draft EIS

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management are preparing a supplemental draft environmental impact statement (EIS) analyzing how a broader range of potential Arctic offshore oil and gas activities could affect marine mammals, other resources, and Alaska Native communities, the two agencies jointly announced on Jan. 25.

They said a supplemental draft EIS is necessary because the agencies have determined that broader oil and gas activity than what’s in the original draft EIS needs to be considered, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service said in a notice scheduled to be published in the Jan. 31 Federal Register.

The new analysis follows comments received after the original draft EIS was released in December 2011, NOAA and BOEM said. The original draft analyzed up to two exploratory drilling programs per year in both the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. The supplemental draft EIS will analyze the effects of up to four drilling programs per year in each area, the agencies said.

They said they expect to release the supplemental draft EIS this spring, and complete a final EIS in early 2014 to guide BOEM's decisions concerning oil and gas exploration and NOAA's decisions concerning incidental take authorizations for marine mammals.

The members of Alaska’s congressional delegation welcomed the news. US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking minority member, said that when the delegation met with NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco last spring, members expressed concern that NOAA would impose restrictions in addition to those of BOEM, a US Department of the Interior agency.

‘Deeply flawed’

“I was clear that the original environmental impact statement was deeply flawed and went beyond the agency’s expertise and mission,” Murkowski said on Jan. 25. “I appreciate the willingness to take a second look, but I continue to believe that this document is unnecessary and that NOAA is interfering with matters that rightfully belong under the jurisdiction of Interior.”

“The fact that NOAA heard what the delegation and I had to say and expanded the document speaks volumes for the process and framework established by the Interagency Working Group,” said US Sen. Mark Begich (D).

“This is just another piece of the puzzle that needed to happen for Alaskans to begin to reap the benefits of responsible oil and gas development in the Arctic,” he continued. “We still have to see what the final document says, but I’m glad they’ve changed course and NOAA is now on the right track to properly balance protection of subsistence resources and encouraging Arctic development.”

“From the beginning, it was clear to the delegation and industry stakeholders that the original DEIS was insufficient and unworkable,” said US Rep. Don Young (R), who chairs the Natural Resources Committee’s Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee. “I commend NOAA for taking this step and responding to some of our concerns. I will be taking a look at this product and provide further comment at that time.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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