A draft proposal released by the Trump administration on January 4 identifies 47 potential Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas lease sales, including 19 off the coast of Alaska and seven in the Pacific region as part of a five-year leasing program beginning in 2019.
The proposed plan would include three lease sales in the Chukchi Sea, three in the Beaufort Sea, two in Cook Inlet and one each in 11 other areas namely the Gulf of Alaska, Kodiak, Shumagin, Aleutian Arc, St. George Basin, Lowers Basin, Aleutian Basin, Navarin Basin, St. Matthew-Hall, Norton Basin and Hope Basin.
For the Pacific region, the plan proposes two lease sales each in Northern California, Central California and Southern California and one for Washington/Oregon.
The announcement was hailed by Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and the state’s congressional delegation as an important step forward in allowing the state to responsibly develop its natural resources, create jobs and strengthen the nation’s energy security. The governors of nine other states, including California, Oregon and Washington, all oppose offshore drilling plans.
Fisheries and environmental entities remain concerned about adverse impact on the environment, including fisheries resources.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said that while nothing is final, the proposed plan offered more good news toward creating jobs, keeping energy affordable and strengthening the nation’s security.
Kara Moriarty, president and chief executive officer of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said the proposed plan was very consistent with the administration’s goal of making America energy dominant, but cautioned that “none of these lease sales are guaranteed to move forward.”
“Americans rely on oceans for economic well-being, recreation, food security and cultural continuity,” said Michael LeVine, senior Arctic Fellow for the Ocean Conservancy. “The federal government owes it to the American people to ensure that our ocean resources are managed for all of our needs and the needs of future generations. This proposal is further evidence of this presidential administration’s utter disregard for balance, stewardship, or the concerns of many affected coastal residents,” he said.
The announcement comes amidst rising concerns over the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on Alaska fisheries, including salmon, halibut, Pacific cod and shellfish.
Alaska seafood harvesters have a long history of opposition to offshore oil and gas exploration and related activities, heightened by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster, and the industry has been vocal about potential adverse impact of these and proposed mining ventures to ocean habitat critical to the state’s multimillion dollar fisheries.
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has scheduled open house meetings in Anchorage on January 23, Tacoma, Washington February 5, Salem, Oregon on February 6 and Sacramento, California on February 8.
Those attending the meetings may submit prepared written comments or enter them on a computer terminal on site, transmitting them directly to the agency. The deadline for submitting comments is March 9. All remarks will be posted on the BOEM website.