Today, in a video message posted online, President Obama announced his plan to designate Bristol Bay as off limits to consideration for oil and gas leasing — an action that will safeguard waters that help provide 40 percent of America’s wild-caught seafood, support a $2 billion annual fishing industry, and are vital to the commercial fishing and tourism economy and to Alaska Native communities. The President’s video message can be found HERE.
WASHINGTON, DC –(ENEWSPF)–December 16, 2014. Today, President Obama designated the pristine waters of Bristol Bay as off limits to consideration for oil and gas leasing. This action safeguards one of the nation’s most productive fisheries and preserves an ecologically rich area of the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska that is vital to the commercial fishing and tourism economy and to Alaska Native communities.
Bristol Bay is at the heart one of the world’s most valuable fisheries, helping to provide 40 percent of America’s wild-caught seafood and support a $2 billion annual fishing industry. The beautiful and remote area is also an economic engine for tourism in Alaska, driving $100 million in recreational fishing and tourism activity every year. Bristol Bay hosts the largest runs of wild sockeye salmon in the world, and provides important habitat for many species, including the threatened Stellar’s eider, sea otters, seals, walruses, Beluga and Killer whales, and the endangered North Pacific Right Whale.
Today’s decision to withdraw the area from all future oil and gas leasing extends indefinitely a temporary withdrawal that President Obama issued in 2010 and was set to expire in 2017. This action builds on decades of local efforts to protect Bristol Bay from oil and gas development by Alaska Native tribes and organizations, as well as local seafood and tourism businesses that create jobs and strengthen Alaska and the nation’s economy. It also honors the legacy of Alaska residents like Harold ‘Harvey’ Samuelsen, a salmon fisherman who is legendary for his lifelong dedication to Bristol Bay and to creating economic opportunities for Alaska Native and rural communities.
The North Aleutian Basin Planning Area that includes Bristol Bay consists of approximately 32.5 million acres, a portion of which was leased in the mid-1980s but never developed due to litigation. The previous Administration set in motion a new lease sale for 2011 that would have opened approximately 5.6 million acres – about one-fifth of the planning area – for drilling.
In 2010, President Obama temporarily withdrew the Bristol Bay area from oil and gas development, exercising his authority under section 12 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which gives the President authority to withdraw offshore areas from potential oil and gas leasing. President Eisenhower was the first to exercise the authority in 1960, withdrawing an area now included in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Since then, Presidents on both sides of the aisle have acted to withdraw areas of the Outer Continental Shelf from oil and gas leasing.
Under the Outer Continental Shelf Land Act of 1953, the Department of the Interior develops a new leasing program every five years for energy development in federal offshore waters.
The current Five Year Program for 2012–2017, which expires in August 2017, schedules 15 potential lease sales in six planning areas with the greatest resource potential, including more than 75 percent of the estimated undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore waters.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is currently developing the 2017-2022 program, which includes opportunities for public comment.