Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Deadline Approaches to Comment on Gulf of Alaska Oil and Gas Proposal

With less than a week until the Nov. 4 deadline for comment on the Alaska Division of Oil and Gas’ preliminary findings on a proposal for oil and gas exploration along the Gulf of Alaska, the state agency says they can’t say how many and who has commented to date.

According to agency spokesperson Sean Clifton “usually most comments arrive on the last day.” Once the agency issues a final decision, anyone who has participated in the comment process during the initial solicitation back in 2015 or during this preliminary decision comment period is eligible to appeal that decision, Clifton said.

Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU) meanwhile is making clear its concerns about potential adverse impacts of such exploration, should Cassandra Energy Corp. of Nikiski be issued an exploration license. CDFU represents some 900 commercial families of harvesters in Prince William sound, the Copper River region and the northern central Gulf of Alaska.

According to CDFU executive director Chelsea Haisman, granting exclusive license to Cassandra Energy corporation for oil and gas exploration in this region is not in the best interest of the state, nor coastal communities adjacent to the exploration area, whose economic mainstay is commercial fisheries. Issuing a license for this area would place unnecessary risk on small, and primarily rural business owners and regional stakeholders who would bear the burden of loss in the event of an oil spill or blowout, Haisman said. CDFU notes recent aerial surveys by Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists who have documented increases in herring spawn within the proposed license area. Their concern is that seismic exploration may impact this recovering species in a negative manner.

Salmon present in saltwater and freshwater may also be adversely impacted by exploration activities, CDFU notes. Wetland systems known to be migratory pathways, as well as spawning habitat for multiple salmonid species are critical habitat. Coho salmon embryos develop over the winter and emerge in early spring as fry. During this time period, these fish are particularly susceptible to seismic activity and any impacts could include both environmental and economic damage, Haisman said.

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