AK lawmakers urge emphasis on Chukchi, Beaufort and Cook Inlet
Alaska’s Congressional delegation has sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke commending the Department of the Interior on its proposal to greatly expand the scope of the next five-year outer continental shelf oil and gas lease sale program but asking that emphasis in Alaska should be placed on the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, and on the lower Cook Inlet. The delegation expressed its support for the proposal to hold lease sales in these three regions.
The proposed lease sale program also includes a string of other OCS basins, such as the Hope basin, the St. Matthew Hall basin and the Navarin basin. These very remote basins have only seen very sparse exploration in the past and are thought to be mainly prospective for natural gas. The delegation has asked Zinke to remove these basins from the lease sale program.
The Chukchi and Beaufort seas, in particular, contain the second and fourth largest, estimated undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources, the delegation told Zinke. The Cook Inlet region continues to supply affordable energy to communities in Southcentral Alaska, and new lease sales are key to new exploration and development for bolstering stable energy supplies in the region, the delegation wrote.
“For far too long arbitrary and unilateral executive actions have undermined the open process that Congress established through the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act,” the delegation wrote. “This has harmed states like Alaska, where tens of millions of acres of waters were previously closed without public input, consultation or support.”
Walker commentsIn a Jan. 19 letter to Zinke regarding the proposed lease sale program, Gov. Bill Walker said that the Chukchi Sea, the Beaufort Sea and the Cook Inlet have long been the focus of Alaska oil and gas exploration and that he was encouraged to see lease sales proposed for all three of these regions. Walker stressed that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management must consult with tribes and Alaska Native corporations that would be impacted by the proposed lease sale program. The state of Alaska has been communicating with tribal organizations and other stakeholders who have expressed concerns about the proposals, he said.
Walker commented that meetings regarding the lease sale program should be scheduled in the regions impacted by the sales.
On Jan. 30, in a further message to Zinke, Walker warned against giving “a false impression that there is an imminent attempt to foster development along our entire coast.” It is important to stress that the Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea and Cook Inlet are priority areas, Walker said, adding that he supports the removal of all other Alaska OCS basins from the lease sale program. Walker also urged the continuation of longstanding exclusions of the Kaktovik whaling area, the Barrow whaling area, and the 25-mile Chukchi Sea coastal buffer from oil and gas leasing.
The Alaska delegation also urged consultations with local stakeholders over the lease sale program.
- ALAN BAILEY