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Begich Cites Progress on Arctic Development

Agency Responds to Concerns, Takes Realistic Approach to Exploratory Drilling

Senator Mark Begich today welcomed a federal announcement which could result in increased oil and gas exploration in Alaska’s Arctic in coming years, producing jobs for Alaskans.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Friday its intent to publish a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for oil and gas activities in the Arctic, which doubles the number of exploratory operations permitted in each of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

“The fact that NOAA heard what the delegation and I had to say and expanded the document speaks volumes for the process and framework established by the Interagency Working Group,” said U.S. Sen. Mark Begich. “This is just another piece of the puzzle that needed to happen for Alaskans to begin to reap the benefits of responsible oil and gas development in the Arctic. I commend NOAA for taking another look at this.”

The supplement comes more than a year after NOAA’s original draft EIS for its operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, which drew criticism from Alaska’s congressional delegation for its narrow scope. The original draft EIS considered a maximum of two exploratory operations per planning area in the Arctic Ocean.  The Chukchi and Beaufort seas are each considered a separate planning area.

ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell and Statoil all hold active leases in the Chukchi, so the limitation was clearly a problem, and the Alaska delegation immediately pressured NOAA to expand the scope of what the EIS covers. Senator Begich, as chairman of the Senate oceans subcommittee overseeing NOAA, also pushed the agency to work with the Interagency Working Group for Alaska, a consortium of federal agencies organized by President Obama to work together to streamline permitting for oil and gas development in the Arctic.

NOAA is responsible for enforcing the Marine Mammal Protection Act in U.S. waters, and companies engaged in drilling activities must apply for permits each year to explain how it will mitigate impacts from operations, generally noise, on marine mammals in the area. The EIS is the scientific underpinning for the permits, called Incidental Harassment Authorizations or IHAs.

“We still have to see what the final document says, but I’m glad they’ve changed course and NOAA is now on the right track to properly balance protection of subsistence resources and encouraging Arctic development.

Publication of the Supplemental EIS is expected within a matter of weeks, which will be followed by a public comment period. After that, the final EIS will be released followed by another public comment period. The entire process may wrap up by the end of the year, which means it would apply to drilling operations in 2014 and beyond.

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