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WWF Applauds Department Decision to Protect Bristol Bay from Offshore Drilling

Permanent protection of Bristol Bay and a hold on drilling in other parts of the Arctic needed until safeguards are in place

WASHINGTON, DC, March 31, 2010 – World Wildlife Fund (WWF) praises Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar’s decision today to remove Bristol Bay from the Bush Administration’s five-year offshore oil-and-gas leasing plan.  WWF now calls for permanent protection of this environmentally and economically important place and for the Obama Administration to hold off approving any additional drilling in the already fragile American Arctic until adequate safeguards are in place.

The following statement was issued today by WWF’s Vice President for Arctic and Marine Policy, Bill Eichbaum:

“Today’s decision accurately reflects the extraordinary value of Bristol Bay to the American people.  It is not only one of America’s great natural treasures; it also is the engine that drives the Bering Sea fishery, the single largest source of seafood in the United States that generates nearly $2 billion per year for Alaska’s economy.  The Administration now needs to safeguard this resource permanently.

“WWF is also pleased that additional planned lease sales will not go forward in America’s broader Arctic waters, namely the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, under the current 2007-2012 leasing program.  We remain concerned, however, that exploratory drilling in these sensitive places will be allowed to continue.  It is our sincere hope that Secretary Salazar will follow the science that clearly outlines the enormous risks we face if these areas are exploited before important environmental safeguards are put in place.


America's Arctic:
Safeguarding a National Treasure

“The hard lessons of the Exxon Valdez oil spill still haunt us. And, as we saw with the recent catastrophe in Australia’s Timor Sea, even the latest advances in technology cannot prevent a major spill from happening or get it cleaned up quickly enough to prevent a natural disaster. 

“The dramatic consequences of climate change have made the Arctic increasingly fragile to other threats.  It is critical that the Senate pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation this year, but we cannot further compromise the Arctic ecosystems that we depend on for jobs, seafood and our natural heritage.”

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

About Bristol Bay 
Bristol Bay is one of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world and is known as "America's fish basket" – this Alaskan bay is where nearly half of all U.S. seafood is harvested and is home to the largest wild sockeye salmon runs in the world.  For more information, visit http://www.worldwildlife.org/what/wherewework/arctic/bristolbayworldsfishbasket.html

WWF’s Recommendations for Arctic Oil Exploration

  • The government should initiate a comprehensive conservation plan that assesses the health, biodiversity and functioning of Arctic ecosystems and the impacts of industrial activities. Marine spatial planning should be used to establish permanently protected areas as well as guide decisions about whether, when, where and how industrial activities should take place.
  • The most sensitive or important areas of the Arctic must be deemed off-limits to oil and gas development.
  • No new offshore oil development should be permitted until adequate solutions are implemented to close the oil spill response gap, especially in ice covered waters.
  • Response gap analyses should be performed throughout the Arctic to better understand the factors contributing to the lack of information and timing about where local conditions exceed the limits of spill response systems. Response gap analyses should be integral components of resource management decisions and part of any contingency planning.  
  • Noise disturbances should be limited in time and space to minimize impacts on marine mammals.  The total number of disturbances should also be capped to minimize cumulative impacts.  Activity should not be permitted when monitoring is not possible due to low visibility.