The government’s plan to open Bristol Bay for oil and gas leasing becomes official Sunday, July 1, 2007. In Alaska, the plan will allow for leasing of more than 78 million acres, an area larger than Arizona, and includes parts of Cook Inlet, the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The plan also includes areas off the coast of Virginia and in a part of the Gulf of Mexico. The plan is contained in the Minerals Management Service’s (MMS) 5-Year Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Program for 2007-2012.
Once the plan goes into effect, only presidential or congressional action can alter it. Drilling could begin in Bristol Bay as early as 2011 but other activities such as seismic exploration, infrastructure construction and increased vessel traffic could begin sooner.
“Bristol Bay is the wrong place for drilling,” said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund. “Of all places, Bristol Bay should be protected from offshore oil and gas development. The risks far outweigh the potential benefits.”
Drilling in Bristol Bay had been prohibited by both congressional and executive actions until recently.
On January 9, 2007, President Bush rescinded a long-standing presidential moratorium that prohibited drilling in Bristol Bay.
A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers have introduced the “Bristol Bay Protection Act” (HR 1957 and S 1311) that would permanently bar oil and gas leasing in the region. Earlier this month, the House Appropriations Committee included specific report language in a markup of the Department of Interior appropriations bill directing MMS to conduct extensive studies on the potential impacts of drilling in Bristol Bay.
Bristol Bay is the engine of the Bering Sea fishery whose commercial fisheries generate more than $2.4 billion annually. Sportsmen flock to the bay each year, pumping millions more into the economy. And the region’s spectacular wildlife supports scores of Alaskan natives who rely on a healthy ecosystem for food.
Bristol Bay is also home to five national wildlife refuges. It is a stronghold for many marine mammals including walrus, harbor seals, northern sea otters, and numerous endangered species, including Steller sea lions, humpback and fin whales and the world’s most endangered population of large whales, the eastern North Pacific right whale.
Conservation in the Bering Sea is a priority for WWF because the area is an unusually rich marine ecoregion, supporting hundreds of communities that are heavily reliant on the region’s resources. The area is also home to vast populations of fish, shellfish, birds and marine mammals such as polar bears, whales, and sea lions.
By: World Wildlife Fund
Published: Jun 30, 2007 at 08:11