Offshore drilling rig © Agencia Brasil/Divulgacao Petrobras
The United States Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is managed by the Department of Interior for conservation and protection, as well as development purposes. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management or BOEM (formerly MMS), oversees leasing the OCS for oil and gas exploration and development. Bristol Bay is part of the Alaska OCS.
OCS and Bristol Bay Timeline
Offshore oil and gas drilling was first proposed in Bristol Bay nearly 25 years ago. A series of decisions, first to protect the bay, then to open it to drilling again, reinforce the need for a permanent solution to protect Bristol Bay from the threat of offshore oil development.
Timeline of Events
1986 – Despite strong opposition from local villages and residents, Native tribes, fishing organizations, conservation groups, and the state of Alaska, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) Minerals Management Service opened Bristol Bay to oil and gas exploration and development with Lease Sale 92.
1989 – Following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Congress added the North Aleutian Basin, comprising Bristol Bay and the southeastern Bering Sea, to a nearly nationwide moratorium prohibiting new OCS oil and gas development.
1995 - DOI reached a settlement to buy back $95 million in leases that oil companies had purchased under Lease Sale 92. The DOI called its action "landmark protection” for “fragile offshore resources."
1998 — President Clinton added the North Aleutian Basin, including Bristol Bay, to President Bush, Sr.'s 1990 executive leasing withdrawals (CA, southern FL, WA, OR, and North Atlantic states) and extended the duration of all such executive protections until June 30, 2012.
2003 – Congress removed Bristol Bay from the OCS moratorium.
2007 – On January 7, President Bush lifted the executive withdrawal for Bristol Bay, its last layer of protection. In April, the Minerals Management Service announced plans to hold a lease sale in Bristol Bay as early as 2011.
2010 – On March 31, President Barack Obama and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced the decision to reinstate protection for Bristol Bay from offshore drilling. The presidential withdrawal removed the area from leasing programs through 2017.
OCS and Bristol Bay Today
As was the case in 1986, a broad coalition of interests is opposed to offshore drilling in Bristol Bay. More than sixty-six Alaska Native and commercial fishing organizations, and hundreds of fishermen, have voiced their opposition to oil and gas development in the region.
Although fishing interests and local communities applaud the March 2010 decision to temporarily remove Bristol Bay from Alaska OCS lease programs, these groups are still calling for permanent protection so drilling proposals won’t ever again threaten jobs, livelihoods, and ways of life.
The Fish Basket Coalition is working to achieve a permanent solution for protecting Bristol Bay from offshore drilling. Until Congress acts to permanently protect Bristol Bay, the region’s future will remain vulnerable to the whims of changing administrations, forever threatened by the possibility of offshore drilling and its devastating impacts.
OCS Oil & Gas Strategy for Alaska © U.S. Department of the Interior