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Arctic exploration spurs concerns

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Chukchi Lease Sale Set for February, Locals Seek Delay – The US Minerals Management Service has issued notice of its first oil and gas lease sale since 1991 along Alaska’s northwest coast. The sale, scheduled for February 6, covers about 25 million acres, out to about 200 miles offshore. The sale area will not include near-shore waters ranging from about 25 miles to 50 miles from the coastline, which includes the near-shore area through which bowhead and beluga whales, as well as other marine mammals and marine birds, migrate north in the spring, and in which local communities subsistence hunt. North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta said, “With all the changes happening out in the Chukchi Sea, I don’t think we should be adding to the problem with offshore oil exploration.” It is unclear whether noise from beyond the buffer zone would affect migrating whales or other marine life in the area; the Borough has asked MMS to gather more baseline data before considering development. “You can’t measure the impacts over time if you don’t have a starting point,” Itta said. “That’s the whole purpose of baseline data.” On Dec. 26, a consortium of local and national environmental organizations asked MMS to delay any decision on the lease sale until it considered new information contained in its letter. The lengthy document outlined issues related to summer sea ice retreat, polar bears, walrus, humpback and fin whales and gray whales, noting that substantial new information has surfaced since the federal environmental impact statement on the proposed sale was completed. MMS officials said leases issued would include stipulations to address environmental effects that may occur because of exploration and development of oil and gas. These stipulations call for protection of biological resources, including protected marine mammals and birds and methods to minimize interference with subsistence hunting and other subsistence harvesting activities. Source: Alaska Journal of Commerce, 1/13/08 [READ ARTICLE]

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