“BLM expects ‘minimal impacts’ from seismic testing in ANWR – Pamela King, E&E News reporter”

The International Association of Geophysical Contractors published the following article on its website:

“If history is any indicator, the federal government could find limited impacts from a proposal to image oil and gas resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Bureau of Land Management officials say.

But energy exploration in ANWR’s coastal plain is a largely untested endeavor that requires more scrutiny than BLM appears set to offer, environmental and conservation groups counter.

BLM last week published SAExploration Holdings Inc.’s seismic application on the agency’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) register (Energywire, July 25). The agency has since confirmed that it intends to conduct an environmental assessment (EA) of the proposal.

‘Modern seismic techniques in the Arctic are known to be minimally impactful,’Lesli Ellis-Wouters, communications director for BLM’s Alaska state office, said in a statement. ‘They continue to operate in the [National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska] NPR-A, an environment similar to the coastal plain, with no significant impacts to wildlife or subsistence activities.’

Green groups are instead calling for an environmental impact statement (EIS), a more rigorous form of NEPA analysis.

‘Here we have a situation where for 40 years it’s been controversial to do any kind of industrial activity in ANWR,’ said Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for the Wilderness Society. ‘Now we’re going from zero to 100. Pristine areas are going to have industrial activity very fast, very soon.’

A provision of a landmark tax reform bill passed last year requires two lease sales in ANWR’s coastal plain before December 2024. The region, also known as the 1002 area, previously had been off-limits to drilling since the 1980s. Oil and gas producers have had access to northwestern Alaska’s NPR-A, but the regions aren’t comparable, Epstein said.

‘The industrialization is going to be so enormous in a place that’s been untouched for millennia,’ she said. ‘We have a different situation in ANWR than in NPR-A.’

BLM is currently collecting public comment to guide the EA, Ellis-Wouterssaid. If the review uncovers possible significant impacts from the proposed activity, an EIS will be required, she added.

Unless an EIS is triggered, public notices will continue to be housed on the BLM website, rather than in the Federal Register, Ellis-Wouters said. BLM’s NEPA procedures only require ‘some form of public involvement’ in the preparation of an EA. Documents pertaining to an EIS, however, must appear in the Federal Register.

The seismic testing EA is separate from BLM’s broader coastal plain leasing program EIS (Greenwire, April 19).

The Sierra Club yesterday pledged to pursue ‘all legal avenues’ against ANWR drilling.

Jenny Keatinge, senior federal lands policy analyst for Defenders of Wildlife, urged BLM to closely consider the potential impacts to polar bear denning locations in the coastal plain.

‘A legally defensible, scientifically viable analysis of the known and potential impacts of oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will reveal damaging effects to imperiled polar bears and other natural resources,’ she said.

‘I don’t care if the Bureau of Land Management writes that in an environmental assessment, an environmental impact statement or on a bar napkin.’”

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