Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Unalaska council endorses offshore oil leasing

Here's an article I wrote for Petroleum News, an Anchorage trade paper, about proposed oil and gas leasing in Bristol Bay:

Fishing port favors North Aleutian sales

Wesley Loy
For Petroleum News
Sept. 20, 2009

The Unalaska City Council on Sept. 8 passed a resolution supporting proposed federal offshore oil and gas leasing in the North Aleutian Basin.

Unalaska Island is home to Dutch Harbor, the nation’s leading commercial fishing port in terms of total poundage of fish and shellfish landings. Fleets from Dutch Harbor work heavily in the waters of Bristol Bay, within the North Aleutian Basin, northeast of the island.

The Unalaska resolution lends support for proposed lease sales in 2011 and 2014, subject to mitigation measures another local government in the region, the Aleutians East Borough, has proposed to the U.S. Minerals Management Service.

Such measures, along with baseline research, are intended to protect the region’s fisheries and the environment, the Unalaska resolution says.

Leasing benefits, schedule

Leasing in the North Aleutian basin “will benefit the local economy, provide good paying jobs, expand local infrastructure and contribute to the national energy supply needs,” the resolution says.

It adds that “natural gas is a clean energy source, and does not present an oil spill concern or catastrophic risk to our commercial fisheries.”

The MMS is taking public comment until Sept. 21 on a proposed national Outer Continental Shelf leasing program for 2010-2015.

The plan proposes Lease Sale 214 for 2011 in the North Aleutian basin, which is believed to be gas-prone. This sale already is included in the current 2007-2012 OCS leasing program, and MMS is preparing an environmental impact statement.

The new five-year program proposes a second sale for the basin, Lease Sale 239 in 2014.

A 1986 lease sale resulted in issuance of 23 leases in 1988, but the government later bought the leases back in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and rising opposition to drilling in salmon-rich Bristol Bay.

Other supporters, opponents

Another local government in the North Aleutian basin region, the Lake and Peninsula Borough based in King Salmon, in late August sent the MMS a resolution “expressing conditional support” for the two sales. The borough wants fisheries protections, revenue sharing and other considerations.

The Bristol Bay Borough in March passed a similar resolution.

Many environmental groups, however, as well as some commercial fishing interests, are opposing the lease sales.

Oil and gas exploration could disturb fisheries, and important areas for king crab, cod and pollock are “right in the heart of where these oil reserves would be potentially extracted,” Keith Colburn, a crabber featured on the hit cable TV show “Deadliest Catch,” said in a Sept. 9 report from Unalaska broadcaster KUCB.

Unalaska City Council member Dennis Robinson, however, favored the resolution supporting the lease sales, and suggested the island would do well to broaden its fisheries-based economy.

“I don’t view it as a risk to our fisheries,” he said in the KUCB report. “Oil and gas exploration happens in the North Sea, it happens in the Gulf of Mexico.”

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