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Bristol Bay Oil Plans Move Ahead Along with Critical Habitat Designation

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Bristol Bay Oil and Gas Planning Announced by MMS; CBD Vows to Stop Leasing Process Due to Critical Habitat Designation – The Minerals Management Service has officially announced the start of a planning process to consider a 2011 lease sale for offshore oil and gas exploration in the North Aleutian Basin in Alaska. The publication of the proposal marks the start of the process, which will involve a public comment period and months of gathering information for an environmental impact statement, said Robin Cacy, a minerals service spokeswoman in Anchorage. “No decisions have been made on the sale. This is just the beginning,” she said. The area, which had been protected from drilling since 1990, is north of the Aleutian Islands near Bristol Bay. On the same day that the plan was announced, NMFS published its final decision naming parts of the lease sale as Critical Habitat for the North Pacific right whale. Based on this and other concerns, the Center for Biological Diversity, which spurred the critical habitat decision process with a 2006 lawsuit, also announced plans to sue to stop the lease sale planning. “It would completely eviscerate the protections that critical habitat are supposed to provide,” said CBD’s Brendan Cummings. “If there is actual development — tanker traffic, drilling noise, industrial disturbance — it will turn an area that is relatively pristine into an industrial zone. The whale’s grip on existence is so tenuous as it is that this will likely push it over the edge toward extinction.” Cacy said MMS is collaborating with the National Marine Fisheries Service on a $5 million study of the whales. Their distribution, numbers and habitat will be studied over a more than three-year period – enough time the agency says to collect environmental data on animals that could be affected by offshore drilling. “We are going to be striving to get the best scientific information available,” she said. Bristol Bay commercial fishermen also oppose drilling there. The bay, which was put off limits to drilling after the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, has huge annual catches of salmon, cod, king crab and herring. Sources: AP, 4/8/08[READ ARTICLE] Mobile Press-Register, 4/11/08 [READ ARTICLE] [MMS ALASKA WEBSITE] 
Related: MMS Moves Toward EIS for Alaskan Seismic Exploration – The Director of the Minerals Management Service Alaska region announced at a recent energy and fisheries conference that continued expansion of oil and gas exploration in Bristol Bay, north of the Aleutian Islands, will trigger the need for a detailed Environmental Impact Statement, presumably to address the noise impacts of seismic surveys on the thriving populations of salmon and whales. “We’ve told companies that if anybody does want to come in and shoot seismic, it’s very likely that we will have to do an EIS,” said John Goll. Over the past several years, MMS has been moving from doing Environmental Assessments to doing full EISs of seismic exploration.Source: Petroleum News, 3/24/08 [READ ARTICLE]

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