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USGS report finds gaps in Arctic data

Authors recommend specific areas to study

Posted: June 23, 2011 - 8:29pm

A new U.S. Geological Survey report identifies gaps in scientific data available to make decisions on oil and gas activities on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The authors recommend more information be collected to fill in these gaps, as well as more comprehensive planning and knowledge of the level of preparedness necessary before allowing industrialization. The document specifically suggests gathering more data on weather, climate change,and on environmental and subsistence impacts, plus on effects relating to various species, fisheries, shipping and tourism.

The report on the scientific needs for decisions on energy development was commissioned by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

The authors said relatively little is known about the Arctic, largely because previous studies have been “targeted in focus and independently conducted with limited synthesis.” It said oil and gas development decision-making occurs within the broader context of Arctic issues and requires a more comprehensive approach.

The conclusion states, “To move forward, we strongly recommend that a collaborative implementation process that includes appropriate measures of accountability for all responsible parties/entities be put in place.”

There are mixed feelings about how a recommendation for more study can be perceived. The report acknowledges both sides and that there is some uncertainty as to what calling for additional study can mean. Conservation group Oceana is fully behind the idea.

“Its true importance is in the recognition of the need for comprehensive research and monitoring in order to make good decisions about whether to move forward for industrial activities and, if so, under what conditions,” said Oceana’s Pacific Senior Counsel Mike LeVine.

He said even basic information on animals and ecosystems is incomplete, such as where species are and how systems might react to noise or oil spills or other effects of industrial activity.

LeVine said he feels while the report is an initial effort to look at what’s known about the Arctic, the specifics outlined for moving forward are valuable. One such way he cited was for industries, communities, scientists and local governments to work together to create processes for decisions to be based on science rather than slanting to single party motivations.

“It’s our hope as an ocean organization that the administration takes this report and finds ways to fill those gaps in existing science and uses the roadmap this report presents to guide its future decisions,” he said.

“The USGS Arctic report has given us all the guide to missing scientific information in the Arctic and where we need to go. It is up to the Obama administration to fill in the gaps identified in this study before decisions are made to allow offshore oil and gas activities or other offshore development to move forward.” said Oceana’s Senior Director of the Pacific, Susan Murray, in a release.

Kip Knudson, who is the chairman of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce and manager of external affairs for Tesoro, said he hopes this report is truly for scientific research and not a stalling tactic. He said the need for scientific data is important and should be gathered comprehensively before development on federal or other lands. He said, however, this can sometimes be used as a tool to delay production.

Although he hopes this isn’t the case here, he said he isn’t sure because President Barack Obama has opted for more domestic drilling and making federal lands available in Alaska.

“I sure hope it’s not just a way to delay this,” Knudson said.

“I don’t see how that announcement is going to match up with the president’s emphasis with getting more domestic production online,” he said.

Knudson cited Shell’s difficulty in getting air permits for exploratory drilling in Alaska as a way in which federal regulations have stalled development.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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