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 Cook Inlet, off Alaska’s south central coast. The draft EIS analyzes the important environmental resources and uses (e.g., sea otter and beluga whale populations; subsistence activities; commercial fishing of pacific salmon and halibut; and more) that currently exist within the Cook Inlet planning area and identifies robust mitigation measures to be considered in leasing the area. The draft EIS also analyzes a range of alternatives to be considered for leasing.
Image courtesy: USGS
Publication of this draft EIS does not mean the decision has been made to hold the lease sale; rather, once the EIS is finalized, the Department of the Interior will use the findings to inform their decision whether to hold the lease sale.
The Notice of Availability of the draft EIS will publish in the Federal Register on Friday, July 22, opening a 45-day public comment period which will close Sept. 6. During this time, BOEM will hold public meetings and accept comments online which will be used to inform preparation of the final EIS.
“Cook Inlet has oil and gas potential, as well as sensitive marine and coastal resources that Alaska Native communities depend on for subsistence,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, BOEM’s director. “We look forward to discussing this draft EIS with the public and representatives from Cook Inlet communities, and getting meaningful feedback.”
In March 2012, BOEM issued a Request for Information seeking input from industry to determine interest in oil and gas exploration in the federal submerged lands of Cook Inlet. In November 2013, BOEM identified areas for potential leasing as part of LeaseSale 244. In preparing the Area Identification, BOEM used scientific information and stakeholder feedback to proactively determine which parts of the planning area would be carried forward for environmental analysis, focusing on those specific areas that have the greatest resource potential and industry interest while reducing potential conflicts with environmental and subsistence considerations.
Specifically, the area identified for the potential Cook Inlet lease sale is close to existing leases in Cook Inlet’s state waters; avoids nearly all of the areas designated as critical habitat for the beluga whale and the northern sea otter; avoids the critical habitat for the Stellar sea lion and excludes much of the subsistence-use area for the Native villages of Nanwalek, Port Graham and Seldovia, as requested by the Native villages.
Following the Area Identification, in October 2014, BOEM published a Notice of Intent to Prepare an EIS in the Federal Register. It then opened a public comment period and hosted scoping meetings in communities around Cook Inlet. The input received during that comment period was used to inform the draft EIS published July 15, 2016.
BOEM has been and will remain in close coordination with the state of Alaska, as well as with local communities, Alaska Native tribal governments, and other stakeholders throughout this process.
Although it recognizes that interest in exploration and development in Cook Inlet may be limited at this time, BOEM is conducting the necessary environmental review to help inform a decision on whether or how to proceed with Lease Sale 244, currently scheduled for June 2017.
SCHEDULE FOR PUBLIC MEETINGS (All meetings 5pm-8pm Alaska time)
The draft EIS and directions for providing public comments online are available here