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August 2018

Vol. 23, No.31 Week of August 05, 2018

ANWR 1002 scoping report out; environmental impact questioned

The federal Bureau of Land Management has published a report on the comments that the agency has received for determining the scope of an environmental impact statement for a proposed oil and gas lease sale program for the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The comments highlight concerns about the possible impacts of oil and gas industrial activities on the wildlife and fauna of the refuge, and on local communities.

The overall purpose of developing the EIS is to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of oil and gas activities in the ANWR coastal plain, to determine what mitigation measures may be need for environmental protection or whether the proposed activities should proceed.

Fast-track preparation

BLM has indicated that it wishes to fast-track the EIS preparation as part of a new Department of the Interior policy to cut the time taken for EIS development. The next stage in the EIS process is the preparation of alternative scenarios for conducting lease sales, with that stage to be followed by an evaluation of the environmental consequences of each alternative. According to a tentative schedule presented at public meetings held during the scoping period, BLM hopes to publish a draft EIS this fall. Following a public review of the draft document, the agency hopes to publish a final EIS in the spring of 2019.

The EIS development results from a provision within the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, requiring the Department of the Interior to conduct oil and gas lease sales for the ANWR coastal plain, otherwise known as the 1002 area. The tax statute requires at least two areawide lease sales in the 1002 area by December 2024. However, the EIS may also evaluate post-lease activities, including seismic surveying, drilling, exploration, development, and the transportation of oil and gas. The EIS will consider the environmental impacts of various leasing alternatives, including areas to be offered and the stipulations that would be specified for lease operations. BLM is also considering potential impacts on subsistence resources and users. The tax statute says that the surface footprint of any production and support infrastructure within the 1.6 million-acre 1002 area must be limited to 2,000 acres.

Meetings and consultations

The EIS scoping report says that the EIS scoping procedure included public meetings in four North Slope communities, Anchorage, Fairbanks and Washington, D.C. BLM also issued invitations to 14 Native tribal entities on the North Slope and in the Alaska Interior to participate in government-to-government consultations. BLM subsequently held consultation meetings with Arctic Village Council, the Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government, Venetie Village Council and the Native Village of Kaktovik. BLM has also agreed to conduct consultations with the Circle Village Council and the Native Village of Eagle.

BLM held scoping meetings with government agencies involved in the EIS development. Those agencies consist of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Alaska and the North Slope Borough. Four tribal entities have also signed up to participate in the EIS project.

BLM is managing the ANWR lease sale program, while Fish and Wildlife manages the ANWR surface environment. Both agencies are within the Department of the Interior.

Thousands of comments

In addition to feedback received through public meetings and tribal consultation, BLM received written statements that contained a total of 4,546 substantive comments, the scoping report says. The majority of the comments came from individual people rather than organizations or government entities. Comments covered a wide range of topics, including the potential impacts of oil and gas activities on various components of the natural environment, socioeconomic concerns, the uses of natural resources in the 1002 area, and the EIS process itself.

In terms of the EIS process, some commenters questioned whether the streamlined timetable for the EIS development and a planned limit to the size of the EIS document would result in hasty decision making and the hindrance of adequate public involvement. And some people requested an extension to the public comment period for the scoping process.

Some commenters asked that BLM consider a wide range of alternatives, including a “no action” alternative, for the ANWR lease sale proposal.

Some people commented that oil and gas project impacts, including possible oil spills, would likely extend beyond the allowed 2,000-acre surface footprint for development. And some asked for greater clarity in how the 2,000-acre disturbance limit would be defined. Some said that the EIS must consider the cumulative impacts of oil and gas activities, taking into account activities elsewhere on the North Slope and in neighboring areas of Canada.

Questions over the impact of ANWR oil production on climate change were also raised.

Concerns about caribou

One area of contention, particularly for the Gwich’in people of the Alaska Interior and northern Canada, is the possibility of oil and gas development having adverse impacts on the Porcupine caribou herd that uses the ANWR coastal plain as an area for calving during the summer. Commenters requested that BLM fully analyze the ways in which the proposed leasing program may impact caribou calving, insect relief habitat and migration routes. A long list of questions over potential caribou impacts included requests for analyses of habitat use, concerns about the possible displacement of caribou from their normal habitats, and concerns about the possible impact of oil developments on the vegetation that caribou calves feed on.

Other questions were raised about numerous other environmental issues, including potential impacts on migratory birds, on special status species such as polar bears, and on other marine wildlife. People made comments on the need to avoid noise disturbance to wildlife and to prohibit the refueling of aircraft, including helicopters, near bodies of water.

Some questioned how the lease sale program proposal could be reconciled with a Fish and Wildlife Service recommendation in 2015, in conjunction with the agency’s ANWR conservation plan, that the coastal plain of the refuge should be designated as wilderness.

Other issues include access to land for local residents for subsistence hunting and fishing. And some people questioned whether the benefits of local jobs resulting from oil and gas activities would be sufficient to compensate for the negative impacts on local communities, including impacts on tourism and the local Native economies.

- ALAN BAILEY






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