The Interior Department stands poised to approve an energy company's proposed plan to build a gravel island off the coast of Alaska to begin drilling for Arctic oil, while admitting that the move would contribute to climate change.
The Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Wednesday released its draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Liberty Project, saying the effects of the oil-drilling island on the surrounding ecology would be negligible or minor.
"Today's publication of the draft EIS is another important step in the department's strategy of responsible resource development and we are committed to working with states, Alaska Native communities, investors and all stakeholders when we analyze development and production plans," said Vincent DeVito, Interior Department energy policy counselor.
The Hilcorp energy company would build a small, artificial gravel island in the 19 feet of shallow federal waters in the Beaufort Sea, which is about 20 miles east of Prudhoe Bay, a major hub for drilling in the state. The 9-acre island would add to the four existing oil- and gas-drilling "artificial islands" already operating in the area's state waters.
"Impacts would be temporary and localized over the 25-year lifetime of the proposed action and overall impacts to air quality would be minor," according to the draft assessment. The draft environmental review will be published in Friday's Federal Register, kicking off a 90-day comment period where it will likely will be challenged by environmentalists.
"Overall impacts to water quality caused by water extraction, construction of ice roads and pads, gravel mining, onshore gravel pad construction, construction of the LDPI, and placement of the subsea pipeline would be negligible (with mitigation) to minor," according to the draft environmental review.
"The federal submerged lands of the Beaufort Sea are known to have great oil and gas potential," said Walter Cruikshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. "They also contain sensitive marine and coastal resources that Alaska Native communities depend on for subsistence. During this comment period we look forward to discussing this draft EIS with the Beaufort Sea coastal communities and getting meaningful feedback on ways it can be refined and enhanced."
The environmental review shows that the project would create greenhouse gas emissions and would contribute to climate change. But it doesn't say the project should be scuttled or significantly altered.
The study defines climate change "as the unusually rapid change in the Earth's average (or net) surface temperature over the past century, which is primarily due to greenhouse gases (GHGs) released from the burning of fossil fuels.
"Although the Earth's climate is naturally variable, the current concern with global climate focuses on how this change is accelerating," it added. "Fluctuations in the global climate are the consequence of the Earth's energy budget (radiation balance), which is the system of heat transfer between the Earth and the Sun; a natural process that seeks equilibrium," it said. "When the system's natural radiation-balance is modified by excess GHGs in the atmosphere, an acceleration of net warming occurs."