Archive for the ‘DOI’ Category

Obama Taps REI CEO for Secretary of the Interior

You may recall our recent coverage of the departure announcement of Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar. On Wednesday, the Obama administration announced its choice for his replacement – Sally Jewell, CEO of Recreational Equipment, Inc.  While Jewell has never held a government position before, she has previously worked in both the oil industry (as a petroleum engineer for Mobil) and the financial industry (as a commercial banker with Washington Mutual). So Beltway insiders who want to question her credentials will have to choose their words carefully, especailly since she is the first woman nominated for a Cabinet position this term. Of course, Jewell will still have to be confirmed by the Senate, but after climbing mountains in Antarctica, the confirmation hearings will probably seem like a walk in the national park.

Where the Deer and the Drilling Rigs Play

Yesterday, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced an ambitious plan for both the development and protection of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (aka NPR-A). Released as the Final Integrated Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement, the plan covers both the development of oil drilling and pipelines in the reserve and protection for caribou, migratory birds, and other wildlife in the area. The plan is notable in that “[t]he Final IAP/EIS is the first management plan that covers the entire Reserve, including 9.2 million acres in the southwest area. Previous plans covered the northeast and northwest planning areas only. The comprehensive blueprint will allow for access to oil and gas resources on 11.8 million acres, which are estimated to hold 549 million barrels of economically recoverable oil and 8.7 trillion cubic feet of economically recoverable natural gas.”

Not everyone is on board – a few politicians claim the measures regarding pipeline construction aren’t detailed enough – but some environmental groups have expressed satisfaction with the final plan.

The full list of documents comprising the Final Integrated Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement can be found on the Bureau of Land Management website. (Scroll down to the heading “National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska Final Integrated Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement”.) The draft version of the plan, released back in March, is still available on the same webpage.

Preparing for an Unwanted Guest

hurricane

Photo by NASA. Some rights reserved.

Authorities and disaster-readiness companies urge families and individuals to have a plan, be prepared, and protect themselves in inclement weather. The arrival of Hurricane Isaac (now downgraded to Tropical Storm Isaac) on the Gulf Coast precipitated a flurry of evacuations, rescues, and news photographs.  But in the background, businesses and local governments are following their own plans.  

To allow for easier distribution within Louisiana’s fuel supply systems during the hurricane, the EPA granted an emergency waiver for clean gasoline requirements in the state at the request of Governor Jindal. Meanwhile, the BSEE reports that 85% of all oil platforms in the Gulf and 66% of all rigs were evacuated in preparation for Isaac. 

While waiting for the storm to move through, we can also consider the possible consequences of inadequate preparation. Today the EPA settled with Turner Construction Co. & Tompkins Builders regarding their violations of permits regulating the discharge of stormwater from their construction sites. Violations at 17 sites accured a total of $270,000 in civil penalties. Meanwhile, the BOEM’s Environmental Studies Program will conduct research on oil spills including modeling movement of surface spills and environmental impact. Underwater spills also pose a concern, however – speculation that oil spilled from the Deepwater Horizon disaster could be spread onto beaches by Hurricane Isaac might add additional envirnomental considerations for business and local government alike.

Shell a Step Closer to Arctic Drilling

Beaufort Sea ice and Brooks Mountain Range. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, some rights reserved.

On Wednesday, the Department of the Interior announced approval of Shell’s oil spill response plan for its Arctic drilling plans, another milestone in the oil giant’s years-long efforts to drill in the Arctic.

For now, Shell has its eyes on two sites for Arctic drilling. Off the north coast of Alaska lie the shallow waters of the Beaufort Sea, and sitting atop the Bering Strait is the Chukchi Sea, separating northwest Alaska from Russia and its East Siberian Sea.

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has approved Shell’s oil spill response plans for the two drilling sites, following the EPA’s announcement in September that it had granted air pollution permits to Shell’s drill ships, supporting icebreakers, and oil-spill response vessels for both sites.

For its part, the DOI has increased safety standards and scrutiny of drilling plans in the wake of last year’s BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BSEE director James Watson stresses that they have “conducted an exhaustive review of Shell’s response plan,” and that the Bureau will follow up with exercises, reviews, and inspections, according to the Hill’s post on the approval.

In May, the Obama administration created an inter-agency team to streamline the Alaskan permitting process as part of an effort to speed up domestic development, responding to political pressure over high gasoline prices as well as what Republicans have decried as undue bureaucratic permitting delays. The past year has seen a string of approvals fall into place for Shell.

Still, a long list of federal approvals await before wells can be drilled. Each well must receive an individual permit from the DOI, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service must sign off on the plans.

Shell hopes to begin drilling in both regions this summer.

All of the Above? NRDC Wants None of It

Photo by NOAA's National Ocean Service. Some rights reserved.

Quick on the heels of an upbeat Department of the Interior Press Release came an equal-and-opposite reaction from the National Resources Defense Council.

The commentary focused on a recently released Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement from DOI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that evaluates potential significant environmental effects of multiple geological and geophysical “G&G” activities in support of oil and gas exploration and development, renewable energy, and marine minerals in the Mid- and South Atlantic. All part of Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, according to the DOI, which called these steps “critical,” and the PEIS “a milestone […] consistent with the Proposed OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2012-2017.”

But the NRDC sees it differently. The same G&G processes that might be used to “understand the extent, properties and geography of hydrocarbon resources, as well as the potential to site renewable energy structures and locate marine mineral resources like sand and gravel” – such as seismic air guns – are apparently “equivalent to blasting dynamite in a neighborhood every 10-12 seconds for weeks or months on end,” according to the NRDC, and “can cause hearing damage and death to marine mammals like endangered North Atlantic right whales that calve off the coasts of Georgia and Florida.”

Feel strongly one way or the other? The public may submit written comments by email to ggeis@boem.gov.

Federal Presence at Environmental Justice Conference

Image courtesy of WILPF. Some rights reserved.

Yesterday, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it had “kicked off” The State of Environmental Justice in America 2011, a conference held in Washington, D.C., that runs through tomorrow, April 29th.

Environmental justice, as defined by the conference itself, is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people—regardless of race, ethnicity, and income or education level—in environmental decision making.”

If it hadn’t been for this announcement, I wouldn’t have known that DOE even had programs devoted to environmental justice. I can’t vouch for the efficacy of the programs, but they have high aspirations:

The Department of Energy (DOE) is committed to environmental justice. We take it seriously. It is a Department-wide activity with Department-wide responsibility. Fair treatment is how we conduct business at DOE. Several of the Department’s Operating Principals memorialize this commitment. We endeavor in all we do to treat people with the dignity and respect they deserve, while keeping our commitments and ensuring safe, secure and environmentally responsible operations.

Well, with one caveat – if you want environmental justice from the DOE, you’d better come prepared:

Meaningful involvement requires that our stakeholders have a working knowledge of the subject matter under discussion, as well as the process for conducting the discussion. In order to be productive participants, all stakeholders must be versed in the subject matter and understand the rules of the process. Otherwise, their participation will not be meaningful.

A little more digging revealed that these programs were developed pursuant to Presidential Executive Order 12898, which was issued in 1994 by Bill Clinton and ordered each and every Federal agency to “make achieving environmental justice part of its mission.” As a part of the Order, the EPA was made head of an Interagency Working Group to help provide other agencies with guidance on developing environmental justice strategies and “identifying disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority populations and low-income populations.” You can read more about the EPA’s environmental justice efforts here.

As for the conference, this year’s theme is “Building the Clean Energy Economy with Equity,” and, in addition to the DOE, brings together representatives from federal agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and the EPA, as well as participants from academia, business and industry, nonprofits, religious organizations, and local activists.

On the agenda? “Environmental Justice and Lessons Learned from the Gulf Coast Oil Spill,” “Energy Sources & Tribal Matters,” and “Health Disparities” are just some of the panels and discussions offered at this year’s event.

EPA Loses $1.6 Billion in Federal Funding

Photo by 依靈. Some rights reserved.

A memo from Marten Law last week showed just how the recent budget deal affected environmental and resource management programs at the federal and state level.

Under the FY2011 Appropriations Act, cuts were made to EPA’s drinking water programs, wastewater projects, programs relating to climate change, and more.

The Department of the Interior also suffered drastic cuts.

For more details, read the Marten Law memo.

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