WASHINGTON - Bill Eichbaum, managing director and vice-president of the marine portfolio at World Wildlife Fund, issued the following statement following President Bush's lifting of a ban on oil and gas drilling in Bristol Bay which has been protected since 1989 through the Presidential Withdrawal first declared by President George Herbert Bush. The U.S. government has spent $95 million to buy back the oil and gas leases it sold in Bristol Bay prior to the withdrawal.
"I am very disappointed with the president's action today. Bristol Bay should be off the table for drilling. WWF will now work with Congress to override the president's action and re-instate the Congressional moratorium on oil and gas development in Bristol Bay which was allowed to expire in 2004.
"Why risk ruining a billion dollar fishery, a valuable sport hunting and fishing industry, a critical resource for Native Alaskans and one of the most important places for marine wildlife populations in the Bering Sea? An oil spill in Bristol Bay would have devastating impacts with little chance of a complete recovery.
"Meanwhile, Bristol Bay represents just a minor part of Alaska's oil and gas potential. Natural gas drilling at Prudhoe Bay - where the field is delineated and the infrastructure is in place - is a much more substantial energy source."
Bristol Bay is home to four national wildlife refuges, important herring, crab, halibut, pollock fisheries and the world's largest runs of sockeye salmon. The region also supports many marine mammals such as walruses, harbor seals, northern sea otters, and endangered species, including stellar sea lions, humpback and fin whales and the world's most endangered whale species, the north Pacific population of northern right whales.
Bristol Bay and the North Aleutian shelf are home to intense storms with high winds and massive seas through the winter months. Offshore infrastructure would be exposed to the full fury of these storms at a time of year when response efforts would be effectively impossible. Even the seismic testing required to find oil and gas reserves is known to disturb marine mammals and even fish and crab.