Bristol Bay is notorious for dangerous seas, high winds, and cold temperatures © Keith Colburn
- Harm to fish, crab and marine mammals caused by seismic surveys
- Contamination of fish and pollution of marine waters caused by drilling operations
- Loss of habitat and disturbance to wildlife as a result of construction activity and infrastructure
- Oil spills from platforms, pipelines, and tankers
- Interference with commercial and subsistence fishing activities
Bristol Bay’s notorious winds, powerful seas, variable ice and cold temperatures increase the risk of accidents and spills, and reduce the chance of recovery and clean-up.
Threats to Fisheries
Offshore oil and gas development would occur in the heart of Bristol Bay’s richest fishing grounds.
- Migration pathways of sockeye salmon pass directly through areas slated for offshore oil and gas leasing.
- Proposed offshore oil and gas leasing areas overlap with essential crab and groundfish habitat, including halibut nursery habitat crucial to the overall Pacific halibut population.
Drilling infrastructure, activity, spills and contaminated discharges, all pose direct threats to Bristol Bay fisheries as a result of direct impacts to habitat. For example, pollutants can affect fish populations by impairing reproduction, development and growth. In addition, platforms and pipelines would displace commercial fishing activities, and pipelines would pose entanglement hazards for fishing gear.
Threats to Subsistence
Bristol Bay is home to 31 Alaska tribes that depend on the fish, wildlife, and plants of the area to maintain their culture and subsistence way of life. For non-Native residents of the Bristol Bay region, subsistence – especially in the form of salmon fishing – is also a valued way of life.
If oil development occurs in the waters of Bristol Bay, a network of support facilities and oil and gas transportation infrastructure will be required, with resulting impacts to hundreds of miles of habitat, including coastal areas and Bristol Bay communities. Access to subsistence resources could be affected.
Perhaps a greater concern is the potential for offshore oil development to have devastating impacts to salmon populations.
- Oil spill trajectories indicate that oil could contaminate the mouths of rivers and tributaries where salmon spawn and where commercial and subsistence salmon fisheries occur.
- Oil spills or other toxic discharges from drilling could devastate salmon runs and the local economies they support for many years.
Threats to Marine Life
Pelicans oiled by BP Deepwater Horizon spill in Gulf of Mexico © International Bird Rescue Research Center
- Nine endangered species occur in the southeastern Bering Sea and Bristol Bay. More than 50% of the Northern pacific right whale’s summer feeding grounds overlap with areas targeted for offshore oil development. Experts believe drilling activities could adversely change an endangered species’ status from stable or recovering to declining.
- Noise from seismic surveys can disrupt navigation, feeding, and other activities of marine mammals and may even cause these animals harm
- Government reports predict a strong likelihood of oil spills in the rough sea and broken ice conditions of the Bering Sea. A large spill could spread well beyond drilling sites and contaminate shoreline sediments and inter-tidal waters where affects could linger for years.
- Toxic waste discharges from drilling may contaminate plankton, which are key food sources for salmon, whales and seals.
In addition to offshore drilling, a major onshore development threatens the Bristol Bay region. Known as the Pebble Mine, this proposed open-pit gold, copper and molybdemum mine could devastate Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery. If built, the mine would be sited at the headwaters of two major rivers that drain into Bristol Bay, polluting not only the bay but also the many smaller salmon streams in the region.