Oil, gas meetings draw little interest

Posted: Tuesday, January 16, 2001

A public meeting in Soldotna to explain the process for writing a new five-year offshore oil and gas leasing plan drew just two local citizens, and one of those was a local government official.

"I drift the inlet. Obviously, some of this area includes some of our primary fishing grounds," commercial fisher Dyer VanDevere of Kasilof said at the Thursday meeting. "If there is a platform in the middle of where we've traditionally fished, that's tough to get along with."

Wanetta Ayers, business development manager for the Commun-ity and Economic Development Division of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, said commercial fishing and oil have coexisted on Cook Inlet for years.

"I'd suspect that would continue," she said. "It requires an ongoing dialogue between both sectors to make sure that continues to work."

Oil and gas leasing could boost activity in the support industry as well as in the oil patch, she said.

The federal Minerals Manage-ment Service held the meeting at the Borough Building to explain the process for writing the program.

The program covers offshore areas of the Gulf of Mexico, the East and the West coasts and Alaska.

However, a presidential proclamation puts a moratorium through June 30, 2012, on new leasing in Alaska's Bristol Bay, the U.S. East and West coasts and most of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. So, the main areas now under consideration for leasing are off Alaska and in the western and central Gulf of Mexico.

The last offshore leasing plan covered the period from July 1997 to July 2002. Minerals Manage-ment is starting work on a new plan for the years from 2002 to 2007. It will take public comments until Feb. 1 to help it write a draft program and determine the scope of the environmental impact statement.

E-mail comments on the program, including comments on the size, timing and location of sales, should be sent to MMS5-yr.document@mms.gov. E-mail comments on the scope of the environmental impact statement should be addressed to MMS5-year.eis@ mms.gov. Mail comments on either topic to Five-year Program Manager, Minerals Management Service (MS-4400), Room 2324 Elden St., Herndon, VA 20170. For more information, call Minerals Management at (800) 764-2627 or visit http://www.mms.gov/alas ka/latenews/5-YearFRNotice.pdf on the Internet.

Minerals Management began planning its last Cook Inlet-Shelikof Strait lease sale in 1992 and originally proposed offering 3.7 million acres from Shelikof to Kalgin Island. After considerable controversy, it cut the sale to just 430,000 acres from Kalgin Island to a line just north of Anchor Point. When it was held in 1997, only two tracts were leased.

Paul Stang, supervisor of leasing and environment for Minerals Management in Anchorage, said the law requires Minerals Manage-ment to start fresh every time it writes a new five-year program.

"It doesn't say, 'Here's the history of this planning area, so only these blocks will be considered," he said.

So, the whole Cook Inlet-Shelikof Strait planning area is on the table again.

Every five years, he said, the Secretary of Interior turns to the latest information to decide which areas should be leased. Oil and gas prices change, he said. Com-panies' perceptions and interests change, and knowledge of the environment improves. The agency's ability to assess the environment improves, he said, as does industry's ability to develop and still protect it.

Ten people attended a similar meeting Jan. 8 in Homer.

"Basically, the message we heard in Homer was they would prefer not to have leasing occur in Cook Inlet," Stang said.

Minerals Management also addressed the Homer City Council, where three more citizens testified against oil and gas leasing in Cook Inlet, he said.

"Obviously, the feelings of the people are very important. Certainly in Homer, they said, 'We want you to start this process where you stopped on Sale 149,' but that's not the way the law envisions this," Stang said. "The history of the area is part of the information, but that's not the only information."

Minerals Management also met Thursday with Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley, Stang said, and it also will meet privately with oil and gas companies.

Bagley said the borough will comment.

"We need to talk about it and get some history, but we don't mind there being some federal leasing in Cook Inlet," he said.

He said he was not sure whether he will put the issue before the assembly, which next meets Jan. 23.

Minerals Management expects to release a draft proposed five-year leasing program in April and take public comments on that. In July, it will issue another draft and also a draft environmental impact statement. It will take comment on those and issue a final proposed five-year program and environmental impact statement in January 2002.

It expects the Secretary of Interior to approve the final plan in March 2002.

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