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Seismic Surveys at Forefront of Offshore Alaska Development Resistance

Effects of Noise on Wildlife, News, Seismic Surveys Add comments

 A surge in lease sales along Alaska’s west and north coasts has spurred predictable resistance from locals and environmental groups. While the effect of any possible oil spills in harsh waters is certainly a major focus of concerns being voiced, the impacts of the first phase of oil and gas exploration have moved to the forefront of discussions. The oil industry is gearing up to explore a record number of offshore lease areas in the next few years, and this summer, up to five seismic survey vessels are scheduled to be off the Alaskan coast, firing airguns 2-4 times per minute and listening for the echoes coming up from below the seafloor, searching for likely drilling locations. Earthjustice and the REDOIL Network, an Alaska Native grassroots organization that includes members of the Inupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Tlingit, Gwich’in, Eyak, and Dena’ina Athabascan tribes filed suit this week to block seismic exploration in the Beafort and Chuckchi Seas, challenging permits issued by the Minerals Management Service, in conjunction with NMFS. Sources: The Daily Green, 5/6/08 [READ ARTICLE] Reuters, 5/5/06 [READ ARTICLE] Earthjustice Press Release, 5/5/08 [READ PRESS RELEASE] 
Related: 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] Nature, 4/10/08[READ ARTICLE] Mobile Press-Register, 4/11/08 [READ ARTICLE] [MMS ALASKA WEBSITE]

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