Inlet on block in 5-year lease plan

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2001

Some 5.3 million acres of sea floor from Afognak Island nearly to Kalgin Island could be up for oil and gas leasing under plans being developed at the U.S. Minerals Management Service.

Minerals Management will include the entire Cook Inlet planning area, but not Shelikof Strait, in its five-year plan for oil and gas lease sales, said spokesperson Robin Cacy. The proposed plan also includes the entire Beaufort Sea, Norton Basin and the Chukchi Sea-Hope Basin planning areas.

Later, Minerals Management likely will reduce the areas to be offered for lease.

"Each sale will be focused down do the areas with the most potential for oil and gas and the areas industry is interested in," Cacy said.

However, the agency will not start narrowing its focus until it begins writing environmental impact statements for individual sales. Nor will it begin considering mitigation measures, to avoid conflicts between oil and gas development and commercial fishing, for example, until then.

Right now, Minerals Management is just developing the five-year plan, Cacy said.

For Alaska, that includes:

n A sale in 2003 from the 25-million acre Norton Basin planning area.

n Sales in 2003, 2005 and 2007 in the 62-million-acre Beaufort Sea planning area.

n Sales in 2004 and 2006 from the 5.3-million-acre Cook Inlet planning area.

n Sales in 2004 and 2007 from the Chukchi Sea and Hope Basin planning areas, which total 40 million acres.

Minerals Management does not contemplate sales in the Gulf of Alaska, Cacy said.

The agency has been working for about two years on the draft environmental impact statement for the five-year plan. Cacy said she does not know what public comments were received during the comment period that ended Thursday.

The draft environmental impact statement should be finished by the end of October, she said. Then there will be another public comment period.

Minerals Management is to finalize the plan and the impact statement by June. Then Congress will have 45 days to review them. If Congress raises no objections, U.S. Secretary of Interior Gale Norton will approve the plan, which should take effect July 1, Cacy said.

Finally, Minerals Management will begin drafting environmental impact statements for individual lease sales. Those take about 2 1/2 years each, Cacy said. Planning for the 2004 Cook Inlet sale should begin next year.

For the Beaufort Sea, Cacy said, Minerals Management may take its lead from the state, which determined in 1999 that oil and gas lease sales on all state subsurface in the Cook Inlet area are in the state's best interest. The finding is good for 10 years. Each year, the state calls for new public comments and information, makes any needed adjustments to its sale plan and offers unleased tracts again.

The state is taking public comments until Nov. 19 to gather new information that could affect its 2002 Cook Inlet Areawide Oil and Gas Lease Sale.

Cacy said the idea of the multi-sale review process is to make sales more predictable for industry.

Minerals Management may conduct a complete environmental impact statement for the first Beaufort sale, then collect supplemental information for subsequent sales. Then it would do either a smaller environmental impact statement or an environmental assessment, which is a less detailed review. Minerals Management also could that for its two Cook Inlet sales.

"We've been doing it in the Gulf of Mexico, and this is what they have done in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska," she said.

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