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USGS Arctic Study Evaluates Science and Knowledge Gaps for Outer Continental Shelf Energy Development

Offers recommendations to better inform responsible oil and gas decisions for Beaufort and Chukchi Seas

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Cover of the new report.
Above: Cover of the new report. Photograph depicts first-year summer sea ice with melt ponds typically found in the Chukchi Sea, Alaska; taken 100 nautical miles offshore west of Barrow, Alaska, July 8, 2010. [larger version]

Bowhead whales
Above: Classified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, bowhead whales summer in the Canadian Beaufort Sea, migrate through the U.S. Beaufort Sea into the Chukchi Sea, and winter in the northern Bering Sea. Bowhead whales are an important subsistence species and are hunted in the spring and autumn as they pass coastal Alaskan villages in the northern Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. Noise, oil pollution, and climate change are important concerns. Photograph courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). [larger version]

In response to a request from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recently released the "science gap and sufficiency" report evaluating the 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. The study was released on June 23, 2011.

"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 while 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."

The report, edited by Leslie Holland-Bartels and Brenda Pierce, 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, titled An Evaluation of the Science Needs to Inform Decisions on Outer Continental Shelf Energy Development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska. Chapter and appendix authors, in addition to Holland-Bartels and Pierce, are (in order of appearance of their contributions): Jonathan J. Kolak, Anthony R. DeGange, Lyman Thorsteinson, Gary D. Clow, Dirk V. Derksen, Christian E. Zimmerman, Deborah R. Hutchinson, Richard C. Ferrero, Sarah J. Converse, and Dede Bohn.

"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 nongovernmental 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."

Among the major areas noted in the report where additional scientific research, analysis, and synthesis could reduce uncertainties are 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.

A fact sheet on the Arctic study is available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2011/3048/.

The full report is available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1370/.


Related Web Sites
An Evaluation of the Science Needs to Inform Decisions on Outer Continental Shelf Energy Development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska - USGS Circular 1370
An Evaluation of the Science Needs to Inform Decisions on Outer Continental Shelf Energy Development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska - USGS Fact Sheet 2011-3048

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Arctic Ocean Research: Polar Ocean Acidification Study

Expedition Images Gulf of Alaska Sediments

U.S. West Coast Winter 2009-10 Erosion Spike

USGS Valuable Partner in St. Petersburg Science Festival

Awards Award for Poster on Web Access to USGS Core Repository

Publications Arctic Study Evaluates Outer Continental Shelf Energy Development

August 2011 Publications

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Updated December 02, 2016 @ 12:09 PM (JSG)