OCS Drilling Leases in Chukchi, Beaufort Seas Goes to Public Comment
As required by federal law, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement held a meeting for public comment to discuss possible new leases and exploratory drilling in new areas of the state.
The Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, along with Cook Inlet, are up for discussion as new leases for oil companies by the U.S. Department of Interior. But before any leases are approved, Alaskans are being asked to weigh in.
As required by federal law, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) held a meeting for public comment to discuss possible new leases and exploratory drilling in new areas of the state.
Over 40 people showed up to express opinion regarding the proposed offshore drilling leases.
“We have to touch bases with all our constituents and stakeholders to see what they are concerned with in terms of the environment. This is the very beginning of the process,” BOEMRE Interim Regional Director James Kendall said.
The five-year OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program is set by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to determine which areas of the state will be available to oil companies to lease. These areas could then be used for exploratory drilling. But as part of the approval process, the public must be given the opportunity to give feedback.
“We take those issues and concerns and move that up to the decision maker…the decision maker, which of course is the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar,” Kendall said. “He’ll have this document and a list of these concerns and weigh out his decision.”
However, some Alaska environmental organization insists it is premature to make such a decision considering the well blow out in the Gulf of Mexico last April.
“We should not be drilling in the Arctic right now. We absolutely don’t have the capability to respond to an oil spill in the Arctic. We don’t have the infrastructure. The nearest Coast Guard station is more than a thousand miles away,” said Center for Biological Diversity spokesperson Rebecca Noblin.
She said there are a number of species, including polar bears, seals and walruses that are already considered at-risk due to a loss of sea ice.
Concerns officials say they are not taking lightly.
BOEMRE officials said they are still in the beginning stages of drafting the new five-year OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program, which is proposed for 2012-2017.
“People are generally concerned because we’re dealing with a natural resource—oil and gas and also the environment. We have to have a balance of each, so people are taking it very seriously,” Kendall said.