Washington wants input on offshore drilling in Arctic, environmentalists cry foul

A view of the Beaufort Sea from the community of Tuktoyaktuk in Canada's Northwest Territories. Imperial Oil's decision to delay drilling in the Beaufort was among your most read stories this week. (Rick Bowmer/AP)
Which parts of the Beaufort Sea should be open to drilling? Which are more sensitive or vital to subsistence activities? The conversation is ramping up in Alaska. In this picture, a view of the Beaufort Sea from the community of Tuktoyaktuk in Canada’s Northwest Territories. (Rick Bowmer/AP Photo)
The United States Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is beginning work on a lease sale next year in Arctic waters, even though the larger plan for offshore leasing is still a draft proposal.

BOEM announced Wednesday that it’s issuing a formal call for “information and nominations” about the Beaufort Sea. The agency is seeking comments on which parts of the Beaufort should be open to drilling and which areas are sensitive or important to subsistence activities.

The Beaufort and most other American waters were included in the draft of the five-year offshore leasing plan the Interior Department announced in January. But the plan has not been approved yet. Environmental groups say the Trump administration is taking a shortcut on the public process.

“This is not how the federal government is supposed to work,” Lois Epstein, Arctic Program director for The Wilderness Society, said.

Challenge to offshore Arctic drilling

The public comment period for the five-year plan just ended, and Epstein pointed out there’s a lawsuit challenging the removal of the Obama administration’s ban on offshore Arctic drilling.

“They’re pre-deciding the outcome of what they’re going to find when they carefully evaluate all the comments and when they carefully evaluate the results of the litigation,” Epstein said.

The agency says each lease sale takes a great deal of advance planning. BOEM spokesman John Callahan says it’s routine for the government to begin work on any sale expected in the first year of a five-year plan before the plan is actually approved.

Reporter Elizabeth Harball contributed to this story.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada moves to dilute Finnish proposal to ban dirty fuels in the Arctic, Radio Canada International

Finland: Finland prepares for ‘nightmare’ wintertime Baltic oil spill, Radio Canada International

Norway: A new gas field in the Barents Sea for Statoil, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia’s Arctic platform to double oil production, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden may start fracking in the north, Radio Sweden

United States: Green groups sue over Trump executive order on Arctic drilling, Alaska Dispatch News

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

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