Presidential Action Halts Oil and Gas Leasing in North Aleutian Basin OCS

President Obama has used his presidential authority to
indefinitely prohibit oil and gas leasing, development or production in Bristol
Bay, home of the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon run.
“This has been a long time coming, and Bristol Bay fishermen
are breathing a collective sigh of relief,” said David Harsila, president of
the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Obama’s decision of
Dec. 16 “caps decades of work from the community to protect the region’s
economic and cultural heritage.”
Jewell paid tribute to the late Harvey Samuelsen, a veteran
commercial fisherman and spokesman for the people of Southwest Alaska, who
championed protection of the bay and its fisheries, and the economic well being
of fishermen, Native communities and other Alaskans.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said Jewell had called him in
advance of the announcement to give him the news. “I look forward to working
cooperatively – in Alaska’s clear interest – with the federal government to
safely and economically develop regions of our state and offshore waters for
oil and gas,” he said. “Bristol Bay, however, is not that place.”
Samuelsen’s son, Robin Samuelsen, chairman of the Bristol
Bay economic Development Corp. in Dillingham, said he was “overjoyed that the
President recognized how important Bristol Bay is,” not only to area residents
but to the rest of the world. “My father worked his whole life to protect our
fisheries and create opportunity for the people,” he said.
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, also applauded the action, and
paid tribute to Harvey Samuelsen, saying no Alaskan has been a more fierce
supporter of Bristol Bay. “It’s appropriate to honor his legacy and
contributions to Alaskans today and in the future by naming this reserve in his
honor,” he said.
Begich noted that the federal government estimated the net
economic value of Bristol Bay’s oil and gas resources at about $7.7 billion
over the life of that development. By contrast, fisheries production there is
valued in excess of $2 billion annually, or up to $80 billion over the same
period that oil and gas development is projected, he said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said that given the lack of
interest by industry and the public divide over allowing oil and gas
exploration in this area, she was not objecting to the decision at this time.
“What I do not understand is why this decision could not be made within the
context of the administration’s upcoming plan for offshore leasing – or at
least announced at the same time,” she said.