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October 16, 2006 --- Vol. 12, No. 70October 2006

MMS issues draft environmental impact statement for Chukchi leasing

The U.S. Minerals Management Service has issued a draft environmental impact statement that proposes the opening of about 34 million acres of the Chukchi Sea for oil and gas leasing. The agency has tentatively scheduled a Chukchi lease sale for November 2007, as part of the 2007 to 2012 five-year outer continental shelf leasing program.

Although the agency said potential industrial activities resulting from the lease sale “would generate some degree of disturbance, noise and discharges into the environment,” many of the regional environmental impacts would be low, especially with required mitigation measures. And, whereas a large oil spill in the Chukchi (defined as equal to or greater than 1,000 barrels) could have “a number of potentially significant effects, we do not expect these effects to occur, because it is unlikely that a large spill would ever occur. Furthermore, an area affected by such a spill relative to the size of the Chukchi Sea decreases the likelihood that the resources would be widely contacted by the spill,” the agency said.

MMS discounted an alternative of not holding the lease sale, at least in part because prohibiting a lease sale in the Chukchi Sea would simply move the environmental impact of oil and gas development elsewhere.

“By not producing our own domestic oil and gas resources and relying on imported oil we are, from a global perspective at least, exporting a sizable portion of the environmental impacts to those countries from which U.S. imports oil and through or by which our imported oil is transported,” the agency said.

The agency also discounted alternatives which would exclude some part of the potential sale area from leasing, saying that these exclusions would have little effect on the overall impact of oil and gas development in the Chukchi.

The public has 60 days to comment on the draft EIS. The EIS documentation is available at www.mms.gov/alaska/ref/EIS%20EA/Chukchi_DEIS_193/DEIS_193.htm.

For the complete story see the Oct. 22 edition of Petroleum News.

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