Bush Administration Seeks To Open Most Productive Fishery Grounds To Oil Developmt

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Posted by on December 12, 2006 at 04:54:59:

Following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, Congress enacted a moratorium on oil development in the majority of the United States continental shelf. Bristol Bay Alaska, one of the most productive marine regions in our national waters, was further protected by President George H.W. Bush with an Executive Withdrawal in 1990, which President Bill Clinton extended. Bristol Bay has been free from negative environmental consequences of oil development for over fifteen years. However, the protection to Bristol Bay may soon become history if President George W. Bush rescinds the ban on oil and gas development in the area.

Bristol Bay extends from the Aleutian Islands in the west to the southwest coast of Alaska in the east. The marine region is home to numerous fish and invertebrates as well as the highly endangered North Pacific right whale, listed under the Endangered Species Act. Many other marine mammals utilize the Bay, such as humpback, fin, gray, and minke whales plus walrus, seals, and otters. Additionally, the area hosts the largest run of sockeye salmon in the world. Copious amounts of shorebirds and waterfowl use the area as a feeding ground or winter home. The lack oil development has allowed these species to live without oil contamination and has greatly benefited the local commercial fishery.

The United States taxpayers during the mind-1990s spent between $95-300 million buying back the Bristol Bay oil development lease rights, which the oil industry purchased in the 1980s. Yet, the oil and gas industry might regain access to the area that taxpayers bought just a decade ago. Scientists unanimously believe that our baseline of scientific understanding about the Bristol Bay marine environment falls short of being able to advise practical decisions about how to monitor the oil industry’s impacts or even how to mitigate possible impacts. More information is needed about most of the Bay residents in terms of their distribution, abundance, and behavior.

While a Draft Environmental Impact Statement has been completed, as federally mandated for such a project, the DEIS report seriously underplays the potential threats of oil development. The report concluded impacts would be “limited” and “unlikely.” While the report does list some of the potential impairments to the marine ecosystem by the oil and gas development they are contained within the 800 page document and not addressed in the final conclusions. Numerous components of the current plan to develop oil and gas in Bristol Bay are disconcerting: the secrecy of planning, the lack of environmental consideration, and the disregard for public opinions which convinced previous Presidents to maintain protection for Bristol Bay.

For more information regarding oil development in Bristol Bay see Elise Wolf’s Truthout 1 December 2006 article at www.truthout.org/issues_06/120106EA.shtml.

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