FEDS IGNORE SERIOUS IMPACTS TO TRIBAL COMMUNITIES, FISHERIES, WILDLIFE & BUSINESSES IN COOK INLET
PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:     December 14, 2021  FOR MORE INFORMATION:     Liz Mering, Inletkeeper (907.235.3459)  FEDS IGNORE SERIOUS IMPACTS TO TRIBAL COMMUNITIES, FISHERIES, WILDLIFE & BUSINESSES IN COOK […]
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PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:     December 14, 2021 

FOR MORE INFORMATION:     Liz Mering, Inletkeeper (907.235.3459) 

FEDS IGNORE SERIOUS IMPACTS TO TRIBAL COMMUNITIES, FISHERIES, WILDLIFE & BUSINESSES IN COOK INLET

President Biden promised no more offshore oil leasing, and Alaskans push the administration to use this authority and cancel Lease Sale 258

HOMER, AK – Alaskans have strongly opposed oil and gas exploration and development in Lower Cook Inlet for more than 40 years. In the 1970’s, Alaskans forced the state to buy back oil and gas leases in Kachemak Bay.  In the 1990’s, hundreds of people showed up for hearings on Lease Sale 149 in Lower Cook Inlet.. And today, Alaskans, joined by groups from around the country, have again united to protect Cook Inlet’s sustainable fishing and tourism economies and called for the Biden Administration to cancel proposed Lease Sale 258. 

“Cook Inlet has been used as a sacrificial body of water for oil and gas exploration and development for over 50 years. Any spills and particularly the 1 in 5 chance of large oil spills cited in the draft Environmental Impact Statement will have a devastating impact on Cook Inlet and all areas surrounding the Inlet.” said Roberta Highland, President of the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society. 

At recent public hearings, every person who testified opposed Lease Sale 258 because of the threats it poses to Cook Inlet. People spoke about the risk to their businesses, their fishing (for personal use or commercial), the Cook Inlet beluga whale, and this incredible place so many Alaskans call home. Almost 3,000 Alaskans have signed a petition opposing the lease sale and requesting a moratorium on oil and gas exploration in Lower Cook Inlet. 

“The consistent public outcry to protect Lower Cook Inlet over the decades is incredible.” says Liz Mering with Cook Inletkeeper. “It’s clear that Alaskans as well as people from around the country love Cook Inlet and want to protect it for future generations of fishermen, tourists, and business owners, a future that is at serious risk if the lease sale were to occur.” 

Several Alaska Native tribes have spoken out against the proposed lease sale because of the risks to their traditional lands and waters. Yet the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)  failed to provide government-to-government consultations to any of the tribes located on the Kodiak Archipelago even though there is a predicted 19% chance of a large spill upstream from Kodiak. 

If a large spill occurred near the endangered population of Cook Inlet belugas, this project could be the nail in the coffin for this population. The people of the Native Village of Tyonek would be robbed of this important part of their culture. And the Alaskans who love stopping at Beluga Point or the Kenai to watch these magnificent whales hunt and play would no longer be able to share this experience with the next generation. With only 279 belugas left, even a few mortalities from Lease Sale 258 would be devastating. 

“Sadly, Cook Inlet has been a dumping ground for toxins and raw sewage for many years with a demonstrably negative impact on the Alaska Native communities and marine life,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director at Defenders of Wildlife. “Opening up this area to fossil fuel development and more pollution could be the final blow to the already struggling population of beluga whales that call the inlet home. We urge the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to cancel this sale and spare Alaska’s people and wildlife from further harm.”

People throughout Southcentral Alaska know the incredible value of Cook Inlet fishing and tourism businesses. Bear viewing alone brings $34 million in sales annually to the region. Cook Inlet’s plentiful resources have supported Alaska Native people from time immemorial, and commercial fishing has been ongoing for over 100 years. Yet Cook Inlet fisheries face pressure from pollution and climate change – the Pacific cod fishery was closed in 2019-2020 because of high ocean temperatures caused by climate change. The additional pressure on the fisheries from Lease Sale 258 could do irreparable harm to these valuable fisheries and the economy that surrounds them.

“Due to the diverse and extensively valuable fisheries, which are essential to food systems and community resiliency throughout the lease area and potential spill trajectory, the Lower Cook Inlet region is not suitable for oil and gas leasing.” said Marissa Wilson, the Executive Director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “ We have urged BOEM to select the No Action alternative. The likelihood of a large spill event is calculated to be 19%, but we believe it to be even greater, impacting resources that are analyzed mostly in isolation but which in concert have alarming long-term, intergenerational impacts. “

Now Alaskans and groups wait to see what the federal government decides for Lower Cook Inlet. BOEM will review the almost 90,000 comments received on the draft Environmental Impact Statement, consider the concerns raised and issue a final Environmental Impact Statement and decide whether President Biden will live up to his promise of no new offshore drilling.