What could drilling do to the Arctic Ocean? That’s what an expanded environmental impact statement is looking into.
In March, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a second draft study of oil and gas activities in the arctic and is now seeking public comment.
The 1,500-page study explores the effects of offshore oil and gas activities in the Arctic Ocean, including exploratory drilling and geological geophysical surveys in the Chuchki and Beaufort seas.
“It looks at multiple activities over multiple years and evaluates their effects on marine mammals, on subsistence uses of those marine mammals and looks at different levels of activity,” said Jolie Harrison of the NMFS.
A number of groups have raised concerns with the study, including conservationist groups who say this draft doesn’t cover important issues like the overall sound, and the need to protect the subsistence use of marine mammals.
"Right now the document looks at largely the number of projects instead of an overall noise budget," said Eleanor Huffines of The Pew Charitable Trusts. “How much noise is in the water, because that's what's really important to the marine mammals, so we're looking for better science to manage that impact.”
Huffines says that these facts and figures are needed so that the government and industry can best be prepared with mitigation measures.
The Alaska Oil and Gas Association also states that the current draft is flawed and inconsistent with the industry record regarding the effects of noise off and onshore drilling has on marine mammals.
“We have drilled in the arctic in the 80’s, both onshore and offshore,” said Kara Moriarty, Executive Director of The Alaska Oil and Gas Association. “There continues to be no adverse impact to marine mammals and we go above and beyond to co-exist.”
The NMFS is seeking public comment on the draft until June 27. The final draft is expected to be released in early 2014, giving officials the time and feedback needed to evaluate a range of alternatives in order to make an educated decision for the future of the Arctic.
Thursday's public hearing was the third this week, with the first two being held in Kotzebue and Barrow.
Contact Blake Essig