Chukchi Sea seismic survey proposed-will whale species be affected?

Rob Stapleton of the Alaska Journal of Commerce reported on Thursday that a subsidiary of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. (ASRC) is to perform seismic testing prior to drilling to establish shallow hazards and site clearance surveys in the Chukchi Sea. This follows the recent lease sale, the largest in Alaskan history, by federal Minerals Management Service. (first reported on this site 10 February)

Stapleton reports that the “proposed 100-day seismic survey with the research vessel Mt. Mitchell is set to take place the middle of July or when the area is clear of sea ice using Echosounders, side scan sonar, seismic systems and a magnetometer that will cover a grid over the seafloor with depths of 2,625 feet to 3,281 feet below the surface.”

A coalition made up of the Native Village of Point Hope, the City of Point Hope, the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, REDOIL (Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands), the Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Oceana, Pacific Environment, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society filed suit in federal district court in Alaska on January 31, arguing that in making its decision to hold the lease sale, MMS did not adequately weigh the impacts oil and gas activities would have on wildlife like polar bears, or on native villages along Alaska’s North Slope. The organizations are being represented by Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm. Earthjustice will ask the court to void any leases issued pursuant to the sale if it determines that the environmental review was inadequate until the government conducts a more thorough environmental assessment.

They maintain that ” environmental impact statement prepared by the Mineral Management Service (part of the Department of the Interior) in connection with the lease sale failed to properly evaluate the potential effect of exploration and drilling in this pristine area, and did not adequately analyze the combined effects of climate change and oil and gas activities on the wildlife that inhabits the sea and the communities that depend upon it.”

The Earthjustice website provides a map of the area and locations of proposed seismic leasing and drilling in the Arctic Ocean. It can be downloaded here.

In addition to the risk of spills, conservationists and Alaska Natives argue that the administration has not fully addressed other impacts of oil and gas development, such as seismic testing, which can cause significant biological impacts to marine mammals, including Bowhead whales. In its decision to open the Chukchi, the agency also failed to consider the combined effects of global warming and oil and gas activities in the region.

In January 2008, however, the US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and National Marine Fisheries Service released a detailed document entitiled: “Final Environmental impact statement for issuing Annual Quotas to the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission for a subsistence hunt on Bowhead Whales for the year 2008 through 2012. The pdf can be downloaded here.

It is an extremely detailed document with a complete overview of the marine ecology of the area, including a complete overview of the Bowhead Whale and other whale species, other mammal species and migratory birds. Additionally it goes into great detail about the effect of human impact on these species and specifically addresses the impact of oil and gas exploration and associated activities, contaminants and fishery interactions. It is a great read and fills in some of the detail that the Minerals Management Servicedid not include. I recommend it to anyone interested in gaining some insight into the ecological situation of the area and the effects of offshore activities and petroleum extraction, including the effects of pollution and oil spills on marine life of the area.

In relation to the proposed preliminary seismic testing, one interesting quote from the document states:

“The available data on reaction to noise and disturbance do not indicate any lasting population effects on the Bowhead Whale, based on the level of activity in the Beaufort Chukchi since the 1970’s. However, the cummulative effects of these future noise-generating activities are less certain.” (page 105 of Pdf)

It is ironic that such detail went into controlling subsistence hunting of whales by Native peoples who have an interest in the continued existence of these marine species, whereas no such analysis was given to activities potentially more devastating to the marine ecology of the Arctic.

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~ by abstraktbiblos on Monday, 18 February, 2008.

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