Offshore Oil and Gas Development: Additional Guidance Would Help Strengthen the Minerals Management Service's Assessment of Environmental Impacts in the North Aleutian Basin
Interest has re-emerged in developing oil and gas in the nation's offshore areas, such as the North Aleutian Basin. Located on the outer continental shelf (OCS) where the Aleutian Islands meet the Alaskan mainland around Bristol Bay, the basin may contain sizable oil and gas deposits, although the area's environmental and cultural sensitivity has made oil and gas development in the area controversial. The Alaska OCS Region within the Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS) oversees oil and gas development in this offshore area. GAO was asked to examine issues related to oil and gas development in the North Aleutian Basin. This report (1) describes the basin's estimated quantities of oil and gas and needed infrastructure; (2) identifies steps MMS is to take to meet federal requirements for oil and gas development; and (3) identifies challenges, if any, MMS faces in meeting these requirements in its Alaska OCS Region. GAO analyzed laws and documents and interviewed representatives from MMS, other federal agencies, state agencies, industry, and other stakeholders.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of the Interior||To help MMS meet federal requirements in assessing environmental impacts of offshore oil and gas development, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the MMS to strengthen the agency's NEPA procedures and ensure implementation of its agencywide April 2008 information-sharing policy by developing and setting a deadline for issuing a comprehensive NEPA handbook providing guidance on how to implement NEPA and periodically update and revise this guidance as needed. Such guidance should detail procedures for conducting and documenting NEPA-required analyses, including how determinations of significance are to be made and how scientific findings are to be reviewed.||
Interior agreed with the recommendation and has effectively implemented it. MMS and its successor agency (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement) were to develop, by Dec. 31, 2010, NEPA guidance, including how to document and conduct related analyses. In fact, BOEMRE has drafted, as of Sept. 1, 2011, a NEPA guidebook called ?BOEMRE Environmental Guidance, which stipulates that while it is in draft form, ?all ? regions must comply with the present version of this guidance and all interim updates until the guidance is issued in final.?
|Department of the Interior||To help MMS meet federal requirements in assessing environmental impacts of offshore oil and gas development, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of MMS to strengthen the agency's NEPA procedures and ensure implementation of its agencywide April 2008 information-sharing policy by take appropriate steps to ensure that the Alaska OCS Region follows the policy for sharing or otherwise making information, including proprietary information, available to all staff involved in the technical or environmental review of that information.||
In March 2010, we reported that the former Minerals Management Service's Alaska Outer Continental Shelf Region shared information in a way not consistent with MMS's April 2008 information sharing policy. We recommended that the MMS Director take steps to ensure the Alaska Region followed the information sharing policy. In response to this recommendation, in June 2010 the Regional Director, Alaska Region for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (MMS's successor agency) issued a directive to the Alaska region for information sharing, including proprietary information, necessary to conduct technical and environmental analysis and review. Among other things, the directive details procedures for processing and accessing proprietary information and supervisory consultation with subject matter experts when finalizing management revisions to ensure the scientific quality of the analysis.