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Scientists Urge Pause in Alaskan Offshore Oil/Gas Expansion

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As the extended public comment period expired for input into the Obama administration’s approach to offshore oil and gas exploration, public pressure mounted to take a time-out on plans for expanded development in Alaska’s offshore waters.  During the Bush administration, the Minerals Management Service began planning for offering new leases in the Beaufort Sea (north of Alaska),  Chuckchi Sea (northwest of Alaska, north of the Bering Strait) and in Bristol Bay (north of the Aleutian peninsula).  Native groups and environmentalists have expressed concern about noise impacts on sea life during exploration, and risks to the fragile ecosystem should full-scale development proceed.   Signatures from 300,000 people supporting a halt in new leasing and drilling were delivered to the Department of Interior in DC, and a letter signed by 400 scientists urged the administration to “take a time out from offshore industrial activity to allow for a precautionary, science-based approach that better assesses the consequences of development in a rapidly changing ecosystem.”  One of the key arguments made in recent years has been that the Arctic environment is changing rapidly in response to global warming, and that further stressing habitats with oil and gas development is ill-advised.  “We still have a chance to do it right in the Arctic. All we’re really asking is that for once we look before we leap,” said Jeffrey Short, Pacific science director for Oceana and former National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration research chemist. That means taking a precautionary, science-based approach to oil and gas development, including assessing environmental impacts before issuing permits, sustained monitoring and comprehensive planning to determine the best way to proceed, the scientists say.

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