BOEM seeking public input on environmental impact of Cook Inlet lease sale

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has announced the availability of a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analyzing the possible environmental impacts of a potential oil and gas lease sale in the Cook Inlet, off Alaska’s south central coast.

While the EIS Draft has been published, it doesn’t mean that any decision has been made regarding the lease sale. Once the EIS is finalized, the Department of the Interior will use the findings provided by the EIS to inform its decision whether to hold the lease sale or not.

The regulator said on Friday that the EIS analyzes resources and uses within the Cook Inlet relating to sea otter and beluga whale populations, subsistence activities, commercial fishing of salmon and halibut and so forth.

The organization already announced the availability of the EIS draft that will be published in the Federal Register on Friday, July 22, which opens a 45-day public comment period which ends on September 6.

Public meetings will be held and it will be possible to comments. Data will then be taken into consideration during the preparation of the final EIS.

Abigail Ross Hopper, BOEM’s director, said: “Cook Inlet has oil and gas potential, as well as sensitive marine and coastal resources that Alaska Native communities depend on for subsistence. We look forward to discussing this draft EIS with the public and representatives from Cook Inlet communities and getting meaningful feedback.”

The process of analyzing possibilities for oil and gas exploration in the Cook Inlet was started by BOEM back in March 2012 when the organization issued a Request for Information seeking industry input to determine oil and gas exploration interest in the region. The following year the regulator identified potential leasing areas as part of LeaseSale 244. BOEM said it focused on specific areas with the greatest resource potential while reducing potential conflicts with the environment during the area identification process.

Also, BOEM said that the identified area avoids nearly all areas designated as critical habitats for the beluga whale, northern sea otter, Stellar sea lion and excludes much of the subsistence use area for Native villages of Nanwalek, Port Graham, and Seldovia, as requested by the villages.

In October 2014, BOEM issued a notice of intent to prepare an EIS after which it opened a public comment period and hosted scoping meetings in communities around the Cook Inlet.

The information gathered during that process was used to create the draft published on Friday.

The regulator said it recognized that interest in exploration and development in Cook Inlet may be limited “at this time”, so it said it was conducting the necessary environmental review to help inform a decision on whether or how to proceed with Lease Sale 244 scheduled for June 2017.

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