The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to analyze the potential environmental impacts of a possible oil and gas lease sale in Cook Inlet, off Alaska’s south central coast.

The draft EIS will analyze important environmental resources and uses which currently exist within Cook Inlet planning area and find mitigation measures that should be taken in the leasing area.

The BOEM says that mere publication of the draft would not amount to the EIS being finalised. Rather, it will open, from 22 July, a 45-day public comment period which will close on 6 September.

During this time, the authority will hold public meetings and accept comments online which will be used to inform preparation of the final EIS.

BOEM director Abigail Ross Hopper said: “Cook Inlet has oil and gas potential, as well as sensitive marine and coastal resources that Alaska Native communities depend on for subsistence.

“We look forward to discussing this draft EIS with the public and representatives from Cook Inlet communities, and getting meaningful feedback.”

In 2012, BOEM gave out a request for information seeking input from industry to determine interest in exploring for oil and gas in Cook Inlet.

In 2013, it identified the areas for potential leasing. The authority used scientific information and stakeholder feedback to proactively determine which parts of the planning area would be carried forward for environmental analysis

The area identified for the potential Cook Inlet lease sale is close to currenmt leases in Cook Inlet’s state waters.

It prevents nearly all of the areas designated as critical habitat for the beluga whale and the northern sea otter. It also avoids the critical habitat for the Stellar sea lion and excludes much of the subsistence-use area for the Native villages of Nanwalek, Port Graham and Seldovia.