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USGS Arctic Study Evaluates Science and Knowledge Gaps for OCS Energy Development
Offers recommendations to better inform responsible oil and gas decisions for Beaufort and Chukchi Seas


June 27, 2011

(SitNews) - In response to a request from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the U.S. Geological Survey last Thursday released the ‘science gap and sufficiency’ report evaluating science needed to better inform decisions regarding oil and natural gas exploration and development in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska.

In March, 2010, Secretary Salazar directed the USGS - as part of a comprehensive, science-based approach to energy development on the Outer-Continental Shelf - to perform a study to determine what the science gaps were in Outer Continental Shelf energy development in the Arctic, particularly focusing on the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. That is the study being released today.

“There is significant potential for oil and gas development in U.S. Arctic waters, but this is a frontier area with harsh weather conditions as well as unique fish and wildlife resources that Alaska’s indigenous people rely on for subsistence,” Salazar said in announcing release of the report. “To make responsible decisions, we need to understand the environmental and social consequences of development and plan accordingly. This study is helpful in assessing what we know and will help inform determinations about what we need to know to develop our Arctic energy resources in the right places in the right way.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) in a prepared statement said, “This long-awaited study about the enormous resource potential in the Arctic is welcome news to those of us who advocate careful development of those resources. It shows that Alaska’s Arctic oil and gas resources are enormous and their responsible development can help address America’s energy and national security."

Begich said, “At the same time, the ‘gap analysis’ identifies a number of steps that should be taken to ensure that development of energy resources is done in a way that protects the other values in the Arctic, including subsistence hunting and fishing. The report suggests that federal agencies can learn from greater collaboration with local communities, particularly from local traditional knowledge, as well from international collaboration. I’ve strongly supported both these approaches with legislation."

“If the President wants to follow up his short-term plan to address rising gasoline prices by selling crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve with a long-term energy plan, this report shows that Alaska can be an important part of the solution and suggests some steps we need to take to get there," said Begich.

The report summarizes the large volume of existing scientific information, much of it conducted under the auspices of the Environmental Studies Program of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement; identifies where knowledge gaps exist; and provides initial guidance on new and continuing research that could improve decision-making. More than 50 findings and an equal number of recommendations are contained in the 279-page report, entitled An Evaluation of the Science Needs to Inform Decisions on Outer Continental Shelf Energy Development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska.

Among the major areas noted in the report where additional scientific research, analysis and synthesis could reduce uncertainties include the following:

• Developing a better understanding of the effects of climate change on physical, biological and social conditions as well as resource management strategies in the Arctic;

• Developing foundational geospatial data on the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf;

• Synthesizing existing scientific information on a wide range of topics on the Arctic;

• Building upon advances in spill-risk evaluation and response knowledge by developing better information on key inputs to spill models (such as oceanographic, weather, and ecological data);

• Improving dialogue and using collaborative, comprehensive science planning, both domestically and internationally.

“I want to applaud the USGS team for the very thorough and inclusive way in which they conducted this study of the Arctic,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “They examined more than 400 scientific publications, workshop findings and science policy documents; met with more than 40 individuals and organizations that have research or science assessments on these areas; and held a series of discussions with key stakeholders, including North Slope and Native Alaskan interests, the oil industry, federal agencies, the State of Alaska, and non-governmental organizations.”

Their work demonstrates that extensive scientific information already exists in this area and is proliferating rapidly, McNutt said. “This USGS study provides a significant review of the science available in order to clarify its scope and help us understand what else we need to know and how to get there."



On the Web:

A fact sheet on the Arctic study is available at

Download (292 pages pdf): An Evaluation of the Science Needs to Inform Decisions on Outer Continental Shelf Energy Development in the chukchi & Beaufort Seas, Alaska


Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews

Source of News: 


U.S. Department of Interior

Office of U.S. Sen. Mark Begich


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Stories In The News
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