Feds release draft Environmental Impact Statement for Cook Inlet oil and gas leases

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management moved forward a proposed oil and gas lease sale in lower Cook Inlet last Friday when it announced the availability of a draft environmental analysis regarding impacts of the proposed sale.

In a press release, BOEM said the lease sale was “part of the Trump administration’s goal of promoting responsible energy development.” President Donald Trump’s term ended Wednesday, and President Joseph Biden had said in his climate plan that he would ban new oil and gas permitting.

The proposed oil and gas lease sale 258 includes 224 blocks in about 1 million acres of seafloor stretching from Kalgin Island in the north to Augustine Island in the south. In a press release announcing the draft Environmental Impact Analysis, Dr. James Kendall, director of BOEM’s Alaska Regional Office, said federal submerged lands “have been shown to hold considerable promise for oil and gas exploration and are in close proximity to existing industry infrastructure.”

In a press release, Cook Inletkeeper, a Homer based environmental advocacy group, called the draft EIS “a Hail Mary to oil and gas companies.”

“BOEM is simply a governmental arm of the oil and gas industry,” said Cook Inletkeeper Advocacy Director Bob Shavelson in the press release. “It never listens to fishermen or everyday Alaskans, and it always does the industry’s bidding.”

“In their desperation to promote more fossil fuel development, bureaucrats in the waning days of the Trump Administration rushed through the draft EIS in a mere three months — a record timeline for federal activities of this size and complexity,” the press release said.

A commercial fishermen, Josh Wisniewski, criticized the proposed lease sale and draft EIS, as did an Alaska Native from Nanwalek, Tommy Evans.

“We’re not surprised the Trump Administration would try to cram this down our throats in its final days,” Wisniewski said in the release. “But this is our livelihood we’re talking about, and it deserves a serious discussion.”

“We tell them (BOEM) more oil and more pollution will destroy our subsistence culture, but they don’t care,” Evans said in the press release.

BOEM said it would publish notices in the Federal Register on Jan. 15, with that date starting a 45-day comment period on the draft EIS, with comments closing on March 1. Comments can be made through a virtual meeting room at www.boem.gov/CookInlet2021. Virtual meetings will be held from 2-4 p.m. on Feb. 9, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Feb. 10, and from 2-4 p.m. on Feb. 11.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.