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Summary Oil fields on land and off the coast of Alaska's North Slope, including the Prudhoe Bay field, have produced about 14 billion barrels (bbl) of crude oil through the end of 2002 (one barrel equals 42 U.S. gal or 159 L). North Slope oil has averaged about 20% of U.S. domestic production since 1977, and it currently provides about 15% of the annual domestic production of approximately 3.3 billion bbl and 7% of the annual domestic consumption of approximately 7 billion bbl. If production of the large reserves of natural gas in the re- gion were to become economically feasible, the strategic and economic importance of the North Slope's hydrocarbon en- ergy resources would be even greater. Oil and gas production on the North Slope has brought positive and negative consequences economic, social, and environmental. Environmental consequences of concern in- clude the effects of oil-related structures and activities on the migration of fish and marine and terrestrial mammals, especially bowhead whales and caribou. Concerns have also been raised about the risk of toxic contamination of plants and animals used for food by Alaska Natives, effects of oil and gas exploration and development on tundra and marine ecosystems, and effects of oil spills on marine and coastal ecosystems. Also of concern are the effects of oil activities and structures on endangered or threatened species, migra- tory birds, polar bears and other mammals, and on wildland (wilderness) values. Some of the socioeconomic changes re- sulting from oil and gas development, including those in- volving employment, lifestyles, health, and other aspects of people's lives, also have been of concern. Considerable research has been done on various actual and potential effects of oil and gas activity on the North Slope' s physical, biotic, and human environments. Reviews of this research have appeared in environmental impact state- ments (EISs), in reports funded by the Department of the Interior and other federal and state agencies, in oil industry publications, in journals, and in National Research Council reports, among others. However, there has been little assess- 1 ment of the cumulative effects of those activities, the eluci- dation of which is critical to support informed, long-term decision-making about resource management. To address this lack of information and understanding, Congress re- quested that the National Academies review and assess what is known about the cumulative environmental effects of oil and gas activities on Alaska's North Slope. THE PRESENT STUDY In response to the request from Congress, the National Academies established the Committee on Cumulative Envi- ronmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska's North Slope, which prepared this report. The committee was directed to review information about oil and gas activities (including cleanup efforts) on the North Slope and, based on its review, to assess the known and probable cumulative impacts of such activities on the physical, biotic, and human environments of the region and its adjacent marine environ- ment. The committee also was directed to assess likely fu- ture cumulative effects, based on its judgment of probable changes in technology and the environment, under a variety of scenarios for oil and gas production, and in combination with other probable human activities, including tourism, fish- ing, and mining. Although the cumulative effects of North Slope oil and gas activities especially production extend beyond the region, the committee's focus was confined to Alaska's North Slope and as far into the Arctic Ocean as there is evidence of environmental effects. The committee met eight times over the course of its two-year study. In Alaska, it met in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Barrow, Nuiqsut, Arctic Village, and Kaktovik. It heard from federal and state agencies, representatives of the oil and gas industry, environmental organizations, and officials and community members of the North Slope Borough and the municipalities it visited. It toured the oil facilities at Prudhoe Bay, Endicott, and Alpine, and flew over the Arctic National
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2 Wildlife Refuge, the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, Kuparuk, and the Northstar production facility. It also held meetings in executive session to write the report. Appendix A lists those who participated in the meetings. UNDERSTANDING AND ASSESSING CUMULATIVE ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS The basic issue of cumulative-effects assessment is that when numerous small decisions about related environmental matters are made independently, the combined consequences of those decisions are often not considered. The result is that patterns of the environmental perturbations or their effects over large areas and long periods are not analyzed. The committee has followed the generally accepted ap- proach to identifying and assessing cumulative effects that evolved after passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. The NEPA requires federal agencies to develop EISs for many major projects. If a project and its EIS is considered in isolation from similar projects or separately from diverse projects in the same area, some cu- mulative effects are likely to be missed. In 1978, the Council on Environmental Quality promulgated regulations to imple- ment the NEPA that are binding on all federal agencies. A cumulative effect was defined as ". . . the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reason- ably foreseeable future actions.... Cumulative impacts can result from individually minor but collectively significant actions taking place over a period of time." The practice of cumulative-effects assessment arose to address such problems. In interpreting the broad charge of assessing cumulative effects, the committee focused on whether the effects under consideration interact or accumulate over time and space, either through repetition or in combination with other ef- fects, and under what circumstances and to what degree they might accumulate. As an example, consider a repeated envi- ronmental insult that is localized in space and occurs so in- frequently that natural processes of recovery or human ef- forts can eliminate its effects before another insult occurs. In this case, one would conclude that the effects of the insult do not accumulate (rather than concluding that the insult is not "a cumulative effect". This approach also directs attention to the circumstances under which effects might accumulate. Although the assessment of cumulative effects has a his- tory of several decades, doing it well remains challenging and complex, because a full analysis of how and when such effects accumulate requires the synthesis of multiple indi- vidual assessments. To address this problem, the committee developed a general process to identify how effects accumu- late with respect to different receptors (i.e., the organisms, communities, and environments that are affected). The key elements are: (a) specify the class of actions whose effects are to be analyzed; (b) designate the time and space scales over which the relevant actions take place; (c) identify and CUMULATIVE EFFECTS OF ALASKA NORTH SLOPE OIL AND GAS characterize the receptors whose responses to the actions are to be assessed; and (d) determine the magnitude of the ef- fects on the different receptors and whether they are accu- mulating or interacting with other effects. At the most general level, the class of actions consid- ered by the committee consisted of all activities associated with oil and gas development. The spatial area was the Alaska Arctic Slope and adjacent marine waters. The tempo- ral period was 1965 to 2025, and the receptors were the physical, biological, and human systems of the region. Effects typically accumulate as the result of repeated activities of similar or different types. However, in some cases the effects of a single action or event can accumulate. This is especially true if the effects persist for a long time and are augmented by the effects of other activities. Beyond simply identifying the accumulation of effects, their magnitude and their biotic and socioeconomic impor- tance must be assessed. The committee assessed biotic and socioeconomic importance separately for each receptor. The importance of effects is perceived differently by different individuals or groups. The committee is not aware of a satis- factory way of attributing some absolute degree of impor- lance to effects, and so it attempted to describe the basis on which it assessed the importance of the effects. For example, in assessing importance, the committee considered factors such as ecological consequences, importance attributed by North Slope residents, economic consequences for North Slope residents, irreversibility, and degree of controversy. OVERVIEW OF THE NORTH SLOPE ENVIRONMENT Climate The North Slope or Arctic Slope of Alaska is the 230,000 km2 (89,000 mi2) region north of the crest of the Brooks Range, an area slightly larger than Minnesota (Fig- ure Sap. It encompasses the drainage basins that empty into the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea. The land slopes gradually from the crest of the rugged Brooks Range northward to the Arctic Ocean. Summer temperatures on the coastal plain are usually between 5 and 15 °C (40-60 °F); they can be higher for short periods, especially inland. Winter temperatures are usually below minus 18 °C (0 °F) and sometimes below mi- nus 40 °C (minus 40 °F). From November 18 to January 24, the sun never rises above the horizon at Barrow, but there is a little midday twilight. The sun does not set from May 10 until August 2. Annual precipitation ranges from 12 to 20 cm (5-8 in.) in coastal and foothill areas and up to 100 cm (40 in.) in the highest elevations of the Brooks Range. Ex- tensive areas are covered by thaw lakes, ice-wedge poly- gons, frost boils, water tracks, bogs, and other features typi- cal of permafrost regions. Snowfall is difficult to measure accurately, but probably averages less than 50 cm (20 in.) in most coastal areas and more than 2 m (80 in.) in some moun- tain areas.
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SUMMARY A; ~~I in S~ 'I, ~~ ~~ ~ ~~ ad. : ~ ~ ~ ~ i, r : ~ ~ ~.:~ L ~ ~ ~ j ~ 3 ~.~7 - ~-~ >~ .~.~- ~~'~ ~ I ~ ~ 't ~ ~ I . ~ N. ..~-~ . ~ ~ #. ..~ . Am. by. --~ i-~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ . ~~.~ - ~ . ~ ~ ~ ~-~'~1~-' ~~' - ,,. ' . ~ ...t ~ ..~'~ ' ..~-~-~-~-~'-~ ~~; ~~ . Am. ~ . ..~-~ ~,~,,~ ~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~ . .~ ^ ~~ .~.~ , . we'd ~ .. .~ ~ ,~ Am. A. ~ ~ o ~ _ . hi.' it. ... , ~~r ~~. . y~ . ~~ ~ -- -I ~~-~--~-~-~-~-~-~-~ ~x.: ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ 'A ~ -~ ~~ t ~~n ~ f.~ ~ : I Art _ ~~ ~ ~ ~ Nit ~~ >; ~' ~'~'~..:~..~.^'~. ~X ~ A ~~—-- >v, ~" ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~$ .~:~.~.~-~ ~~-~ coax ~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~-~- ~~ ~~ ~ } ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ i, ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ . ~ ~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~-~ -a ~ ,$ ~-~-~. ~~ ~ ~ ~ i~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~-~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~ ~~, ~~ ~~S ~~:~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ L:~:~:~: :~: :~: :~: f~-~ ^!~ ~v-- : : : : :~ :: :: :: : 3 R-, '' i: : : fib. or- ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~ ~N ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~! : : :i :: ~ "2: .) ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: i.~:::::~........................................................................................................ FIGURE S- 1 The Alaska North Slope region. The dashed line is the southern boundary of the drainage basin. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline is close to the Dalton Highway. SOURCE: Data from Alaska Geobotany Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2002. Permafrost Alaska's North Slope is underlain by permafrost, earth material whose temperature stays below freezing year-round. Along the Arctic coast, the permafrost extends to depths of 200-650 m (650-2,100 ft), the deepest occurring near Prudhoe Bay. Permafrost is important primarily because its groundwater generally occurs as ice, often in massive forms. If the ice melts, the ground surface can subside and become unstable. Thus permafrost poses special problems for the development of industrial infrastructure and the preserva- tion of natural systems. Permafrost is separated from the ground surface by an active layer that thaws each summer to depths ranging from 20 cm (8 in.) to more than 2 m. The active layer sustains tundra plants, which in turn sustain animals and control pro- cesses of surface erosion and water flow. Changes in surface conditions, such as disruption of the insulating organic mat or impoundment of surface water, can cause the surface to settle and create thermokarst a disrup- tion of the tundra's surface associated with warming and thawing of permafrost. This process is difficult to reverse and has ecological effects as well as effects on structures. To maintain permafrost, activities on the tundra must be con- trolled carefully, and buildings, roads, and other structures must be designed to avoid thawing their own foundations. Special conditions exist offshore where development takes place on deep permafrost warmed by the sea to temperatures close to melting. Engineering designs for the infrastructure might eventually have to be reconsidered if North Slope cli- mates warm as predicted in the twenty-first century. Geomorphology The North Slope is divided into three major regions: the Arctic Coastal Plain, the Arctic Foothills, and the Brooks Range. To date, all oil production has occurred on the coastal plain, but there is increasing exploration in the foothills. The only directly influenced area in the Brooks Range is the cor- ridor for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which crosses those mountains at Atigun Pass. Surface Water The Arctic Coastal Plain is generally flat, with large lakes and extensive wetlands that are important habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds. Lakes and ponds are among its most striking landforms. Most lakes in the developed oil- field region between the Sagavanirktok and Colville rivers are shallow, typically less than 6 ft (1.8 m) deep. Lakes are deeper to the west and south, with mean maximum depths of more than 30 ft (9 m) in lakes south of Teshekpuk Lake, the largest lake on the coastal plain (816 km2 or 315 mild Lakes on the coastal plain are typically ice-covered from early to mid-October until early July. During winter, flow ceases in the region's many rivers, and ice develops to a thickness of about 1.8 m (6 ft). Spring break-up begins in the Brooks Range and foothills, which warm more rapidly than does the
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4 coastal plain. During this time, the lower reaches of rivers are frozen, and the tundra is still snow-covered. Thus, there is substantial icejamming and over-bank flooding. Terrestrial Biota The Arctic Coastal Plain has the largest expanse of arc- tic fens (mineral-rich, sedge-covered wetlands) and thaw lakes in the world, and the foothills comprise the largest ex- panse of tussock tundra (tundra dominated by the cottongrass Eriophorum vaginatum) in the world. The most important consumers of living and dead plant tissues in terrestrial arctic tundra are mammals, birds, arthropods, and nematodes. The mammals include caribou, moose, muskoxen, grizzly bears, foxes, and wolves. Most bird species that breed in Alaska north of the Brooks Range nest in tundra habitats, associated wetlands, or adjacent ma- rine lagoons. The dominant groups, both in the number of species and in their abundance, are waterfowl ducks, geese, and swans and shorebirds. Loons and some other species are of concern because their populations are generally de- clining elsewhere in and outside Alaska. No cold-blooded terrestrial vertebrates can survive the arctic cold; birds and mammals are the only terrestrial verte- brates. The most abundant and important terrestrial inverte- brates are insects. In fresh water, most fish species spend their lives in rivers and lakes, although some migrate be- tween fresh water and coastal marine waters. Marine Ecology The nearshore marine environment contains three main aquatic habitats: delta fronts (places where fresh water from river deltas meets coastal marine water), coastal lagoons, and open coast. Some areas of the coast are open and directly exposed to the wind, wave, and current action of the Arctic Ocean. Other stretches of the shore are protected by chains of barrier islands. The sea is usually covered in ice from November through June. The Arctic Ocean supports a specialized biotic commu- nity, despite its low biological productivity. However, espe- cially near the coast, there is relatively high primary produc- tivity because of the ice edge and upwelling. More than 100 phytoplankton species have been identi- fied from the Beaufort Sea, mostly diatoms, dinoflagellates, and flagellates. The zooplankton is dominated by herbivo- rous copepods; amphipods, mysids, euphausiids, ostracods, decapods, and jellyfish also are present. Kelp communities and benthic invertebrates are important components of the marine ecosystem. Twenty-nine species of fish are regularly found in fresh- water and nearshore habitats of the North Slope. Most marine species inhabit deeper offshore waters and are rarely found in the North Slope coastal zone. Marine mammals include three truly arctic species (ringed seals, bearded seals, and polar CUMULATIVE EFFECTS OF ALASKA NORTH SLOPE OIL AND GAS bears) and four principally subarctic species (spotted seals, walrus, beluga whales, and bowhead whales) that move into the area seasonally from the Bering and Chukchi seas. The Human Environment Alaska's North Slope is one of the most extreme envi- ronments in which humans live and work. The social organi- zation of Alaska Natives centers on group subsistence ac- tivities and on an extensive network that shares subsistence harvests. Cultural knowledge and practices of North Slope Alaska Natives have been refined over many generations in an environment where one bad decision can lead to indi- vidual deaths or even to starvation of an entire village. Initial contact with Western culture came in the mid- nineteenth century, when the area was first visited by com- mercial whalers and Protestant missionaries. Steady-wage jobs were first introduced with the U.S. Navy's petroleum exploration on the North Slope in the 1940s; construction of distant early warning radar sites in the 1950s also provided some employment. But even with these sources of income, wage-earning jobs on the North Slope were scarce through- out the 1950s and 1960s, and subsistence activities were the main source of food for most families. North Slope Human Cultures in the Oil Era The announcement in 1968 of the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay the largest oil field in North America cata- lyzed changes that affected the human environment of the North Slope and increasingly moved North Slope residents into the mainstream economy. The enactment of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971 established the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and the village corporations. The North Slope Borough was established in 1972. The ex- tremely rural nature of the North Slope Borough and the isolation of its small communities influence the nature and extent of the effects of oil and gas activities. Environmental Limitations on Human Activities The physical environment of the North Slope shapes and limits the ways that human communities operate. Agricul- ture and forestry are impossible; wood for construction is locally available only as driftwood in coastal areas. Most travel between communities on the North Slope, or between those communities and subsistence-hunting areas, occurs by air, by snow machine in the winter when the tundra is frozen, or by water in the summer. Transportation beyond the region is almost entirely by air. The costs of transportation and of goods that must be transported to the North Slope are considerably higher than in the rest of Alaska or the continental United States. Be- cause North Slope residents do not have greater incomes per capita than do some of their counterparts in Alaska, and those
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SUMMARY in the United States in general, they must either have a lower standard of living or rely to a greater extent on subsistence harvest, or both. FINDINGS The committee's unanimous findings and recommenda- t~ons are presented in two sections. This one is an evaluation of major effects and how they accumulate. The next section provides recommendations for filling knowledge gaps. Growth of Industrial Activity Industrial activity on the North Slope has grown from a single operational oil field at Prudhoe Bay to an industrial complex of developed oil fields and their interconnecting roads, pipelines, and power lines that stretches from the A1- pine field in the west to Badami in the east (Figure S-2~. A highway and pipeline cross the state from near the Arctic coast to Valdez. This network has grown incrementally as new fields have been explored and brought into production. For many reasons, nearly all of the roads, pads, pipelines, and other infrastructure are still in place and are likely to remain so for some time. The environmental effects of such structures are manifest not only at the "footprint" itself (the area physically covered by the structure), but also at dis- tances that vary depending on the environmental component affected. Effects on hydrologic processes, vegetation, and animal populations occur at distances of up to a few miles (several kilometers) from the physical footprint of a struc- ture. Effects on wildland values especially visual ones- extend much farther, as can the effects on marine mammals of sound caused by some offshore activities. All visual ef- fects due to the structures and associated activities will per- sist as long as the structures remain, even if industrial activ- ity ceases. They will accumulate with expanded activity. Regulatory oversight can be critical in reducing the ac- cumulation of undesirable effects. The committee's predic- tions of future effects and their accumulation assume that regulatory oversight will continue at least to the extent of the recent past. Interactions of Climate Change and Oil Development Global and regional climates have changed throughout the Earth's history, but climate warming during the past sev- eral decades on the North Slope has been unusually rapid. Animals and plants evolve and change their ranges in re- sponse to environmental changes. Humans have migrated in and out of the area, and their cultures including social, eco- nomic, and legal elements of those cultures have changed as well. Those changes complicate and confound the assess- ment and isolation of the effects of oil and gas activities on the North Slope. If recent warming trends continue, as many projections indicate they will, their effects will accumulate over the next century to alter the extent and timing of sea ice, affect the distribution and abundance of marine and terres- trial plants and animals, and affect permafrost. Such changes would eventually affect existing oil-field infrastructure and would continue to affect the usefulness of many oil-field technologies and how they affect the environment. Climate change also would affect arctic ecosystems and Native Alas- kan cultures as well as the way they are affected by oil and gas activities. In some cases, it is relatively easy to apportion the causes of observed changes between climate or oil and gas activities; in others, it is impossible. Damage to Tundra from Off-Roacl Travel The tundra of the North Slope has been altered by ex- tensive off-road travel. Networks of seismic-exploration trails cover extensive areas. The currently favored 3-D sur- veys (three-dimensional surveys that obtain geophysical data) require a higher spatial density of trails than earlier methods. Some effects of seismic exploration accumulate because areas have been resurveyed before the tundra recov- ered from the effects of previous surveys. Seismic explora- tion has adversely affected vegetation and caused erosion, especially along stream banks. In addition, because seismic trails are readily visible from the air, they have degraded visual experiences on the North Slope over a large area. How long damages caused by seismic surveys and other off-road travel will persist is not known, but some effects are known to have persisted for several decades. There have been substantial improvements in technolo- gies, especially of exploration, and the operators have been taking increased care. The technology used for obtaining seismic data continues to improve, but there is still potential damage to the tundra because of the large camps, the number of vehicles used, and the higher spatial density of 3-D trails. The new technology has reduced but not totally eliminated damage to the tundra. Roacis Roads have had effects as far-reaching and complex as any physical component of the North Slope oil fields. In ad- dition to their direct effects on the tundra, indirect effects are caused by dust, roadside flooding, thermokarst, and roadside snow accumulation. Roads also alter animal habitat and behavior and can increase access of hunters, tourists, and others to much of the region. Roads can enhance communi- cation among communities, and in the future could increase contacts between North Slope communities and those out- side the area. Effects on Animal Populations Animals have been affected by industrial activities on the North Slope. Bowhead whales have been displaced in
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6 - ~ - ~ rK —~ ...,:_\~,if2 ~ ~ ,, ..,. ~ ~ ... ~ 'in I.? ~ ~ _V _ L' b~ CUMULATIVE EFFECTS OF ALASKA NORTH SLOPE OIL AND GAS ~< nit ~ 1 1 ~ ll11 ~~ 'a jet ~ ,J:.~ I-;, ",. ,._ / / / ~ ., , ,,, , ~ it, , \ — / . , } it' / 0 5 10 Miles i,.,; r __ E ~ r it n ndPr d ~ nUn.t xpoalo a 0 uc'~ Is Dril~t &Pr d t nF It Em- ~ v' es 0 undo ale'' leg . ~ P'pel~nes ` Roads - - Trails (lee roads not inclucledl) Apr~l'2003 FIGURE S-2 North Slope Production Facilities, Colville to Canning Rivers. Funded by the National Academies. Drawing by Mapmakers Alaska, 2003. their fall migration by the noise of seismic exploration. The full extent of that displacement is not yet known. Some den- ning polar bears have been disturbed. The ready availability of new sources of food from people in the oil fields has re- sulted in increases in predator densities. Because brown bears, arctic foxes, ravens, and glaucous gulls prey on eggs, nestlings, and fledglings of many bird species, the reproduc- tive success of some of those species in the developed parts of the oil fields has been reduced. Efforts to reduce the amount of supplemental food available to predators have been only partly successful, because some predators have become expert at defeating anti-predator devices, and it is difficult to persuade people to stop feeding them. The high predation rates have reduced the reproductive success of some bird species in industrial areas to the extent that, at least in some years, reproduction is insufficient to balance mortality. Those populations called sink popula- tions might persist in oil fields only because of immigra- tion. Sink populations have not been unambiguously de- tected because census data (counts) alone do not reveal them. However, several species of birds apparently have been af- fected in this way. As a result of conflicts with industrial activity during calving and an interaction of disturbance with the stress of summer insect harassment, reproductive success of Central Arctic Herd female caribou in contact with oil development from 1988 through 2001 was lower than for undisturbed fe- males, contributing to an overall reduction in herd produc- tivity. The decrease in herd size between 1992 and 1995 may reflect the additive effects of surface development and rela- tively high insect activity, in contrast to an increase in the herd's size from 1995 to 2000, when insect activity was gen- erally low. Although the accumulated effects of industrial development to date have not resulted in large or long-term declines in the overall size of the Central Arctic Herd, the spread of industrial activity into other areas that caribou use during calving and in summer, especially to the east where the coastal plain is narrower than elsewhere, would likely result in reductions in reproductive success, unless the de- gree to which it disturbs caribou could be reduced. Without specific information on the exact nature of future activity and its precise distribution, it is not possible to predict to what degree the distribution and productivity of caribou herds would be affected. Oil Spills Major oil spills have not occurred on the North Slope or adjacent oceans through operation of the oil fields. There have been three major spills from the North Slope segment
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SUMMARY ~ W-`'<. 1 ~ ~ DUCK ` ISLAND a. .. Proposed Liberty / Pipeline -~> i.-.,, o I ,,f,',l "'''''I I - j3~ADA ;~. 7 NORTH SLOPE OIL & GAS PRODUCTION FACILITIES EAST POINT THOMSON UNIT ~~ i- - - , W -''' i;'' ' <~ ..Y _' ' of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Many small spills have oc- curred in the oil fields, but they have not been frequent or large enough for their effects to have accumulated. The ef- fects of a large oil spill at sea, especially in broken ice, would likely be substantial and accumulate. No current cleanup methods remove more than a small fraction of oil spilled in marine waters, especially in the presence of broken ice. Expansion of Activities into New Areas Seismic exploration is expanding westward into the Na- tional Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and southward into the foot- hills of the Brooks Range. Current technology and regulations governing seismic-exploration permits and other off-road travel have reduced but not eliminated damage to the tundra. The nature and condition of permafrost in the foothills is poorly characterized, and the hilly topography increases the likelihood that vehicles will damage vegetation, especially on knolls and riverbanks, causing increased erosion, exposing bare soil, and creating thermokarst. In addition, future explo- ration will be carried out in a climate that is likely to continue to warm, with milder winter temperatures and shorter periods of freezing. It is hard to predict the consequences of vehicular traffic in winter on tundra under these altered conditions. SLUGGER UNIT ' Legacy of Abanclonecl Infrastructure and Unrestorecl Landscapes The oil industry and regulatory agencies have made dra- matic progress in reducing the effects of new gravel fill by reducing the size of the gravel footprint required for many types of facilities and by substituting ice for gravel in some roads and pads. Much less attention has been directed to re- storing already disturbed sites. To date, only about 40 ha (100 acres), or about 1% of the habitat on the North Slope affected by gravel fill, has been restored. With the exception of well-plugging and abandonment procedures, state, fed- eral, and local agencies have largely deferred decisions about the nature and extent of restoration that will be required. The lack of clear state or federal performance criteria, standards, and monitoring methods governing the extent and timing of restoration has hampered progress in restoring disturbed sites. In addition, if a site has potential for future use, resto- ration could make that future use more expensive or perhaps impossible, thus influencing decisions to defer restoration. Potential liability for contaminated sites also constitutes a barrier to re-use of gravel. Because the obligation to restore abandoned sites is un- clear, and restoration is likely to be expensive, the commit-
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8 tee judges it unlikely that most disturbed habitat on the North Slope will be restored unless current constraints change dra- matically. Because natural recovery in the Arctic is slow, the effects caused by abandoned and unrestored structures are likely to persist for centuries. They could accumulate further as new structures are added in the region. Socioeconomic Changes in North Slope Communities The North Slope Borough, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and hence the Arctic Slope Regional Cor- poration were created as a result of the discovery and de- velopment of North Slope oil. Without it, they would not exist or, if they did, would bear little resemblance to their current form. Modern western culture, including oil devel- opment and the revenue stream it created, has resulted in major, important, and probably irreversible changes to the way of life in North Slope communities. The changes in- clude improvements in schools, health care, housing, and other community services as well as increased rates of al- coholism, diabetes, and circulatory disease. There have been large changes in culture, diet, and the economic sys- tem. Many North Slope residents view many of these changes as positive. However, social and cultural shifts of this magnitude inevitably bear costs in social and individual pathology. These effects accumulate because they arise from several causes, and they interact. As adaptation oc- curs, the communities and the people who make them up interact in new and different ways with the causes of social change. The largest changes have occurred since the dis- covery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968. Interference with Subsistence Activities Offshore exploration and development and the an- nouncement of offshore sales have resulted in perceived risks to Inupiaq culture that are widespread and intense and are accumulating effects. The Inupiat of the North Slope have a centuries-old nutritional and cultural relationship with the bowhead whale. Most view offshore industrial activity- both its observed effects and the possibility of a major oil spill as a threat to the bowheads and, thereby, to their cul- tural survival. Fall-migrating bowhead whales avoid areas where the noise from exploratory drilling and marine seis- mic exploration exceeds 117-135 dB. The distances over which the migratory pathways of the whales are altered are not yet known, but the deflections have forced subsistence hunters to travel farther from home to hunt whales. This in- creases their risk of exposure to adverse weather and the likelihood that whale tissue will deteriorate before a carcass can be landed and processed. Recent agreements to limit or move some exploration activities in the fall, which are rene- gotiated annually, have reduced the effects on hunters. The Inupiat view the possibility of a major oil spill as a potential catastrophe, even though no such spill has occurred there. CUMULATIVE EFFECTS OF ALASKA NORTH SLOPE OIL AND GAS Those threats accumulate because they interact and they are repeated with each new lease sale. Proposals to explore and develop oil resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have resulted in widespread, intense perceived risks to Gwich'in culture that themselves are accumulating effects. The Gwich'in Indians of northeast Alaska and northwest Canada have a centuries-old nutri- tional and cultural relationship with the Porcupine Caribou Herd. Most Gwich'in oppose any oil development that would threaten the herd, especially on its calving ground, and, thereby, threaten their cultural survival. This threat accumu- lates, because repeated attempts to develop areas used by the herd have occurred and probably will continue to occur. Aesthetic, Cultural, and Spiritual Consequences Many activities associated with oil development have changed the North Slope landscape in ways that have had accumulating aesthetic, cultural, and spiritual consequences. They have reduced opportunities for solitude and have com- promised wildland (wilderness) and scenic values over large areas. They also violate what some Alaska Natives call the "spirit of the land," which they describe as central to their relationship with the land. Those consequences have in- creased in proportion to the area affected by development, and they will persist as long as the landscape remains al- tered. They will accumulate further if the area affected by development increases. Response of North Slope Cultures to Declining Revenues The current, altered way of life of North Slope commu- nities will be impossible to maintain unless enough money continues to come into those communities from outside sources after oil and gas activities cease. But likely continu- ing sources of funds appear to be modest. Painful adjust- ments to reduced financial resources can and probably will be postponed for as long as oil and gas are being extracted, but eventual adjustment is unavoidable. The nature and ex- tent of adjustment will be determined by the adaptations North Slope societies have made to the cash economy made possible by oil and gas and other activities. FILLING KNOWLEDGE GAPS A great deal of time and effort has been invested in studying North Slope environments and assessing the effects of oil and gas activities there. Some of the research recom- mendations that follow are for new investigations, but many of them represent a sharpening of the focus and the emphasis of current research efforts. To the degree possible, information on the effects of industrial development on the North Slope (including infor- mation on the physical, biotic, and human environments) should be gathered concurrent with oil and gas activities to
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SUMMARY take advantage of opportunities for learning and to promote better management (i.e., adaptive management). Neecl for Comprehensive Planning Decisions about where, when, and under what condi- tions industrial activities are permitted on the North Slope are made by many federal, state, municipal, and other agen- cies. Communication among them has usually been weak and sporadic. Decisions generally have been made on a case- by-case basis, without a comprehensive plan and regulatory strategy that identifies the scope, intensity, direction, and consequences of industrial activities judged appropriate and desirable. The anticipated high costs to dismantle and re- move infrastructure and to rehabilitate and restore the North Slope environment raise concerns about the availability of funds for restoration when production ends. For these and other reasons, comprehensive planning is needed. All com- prehensive plans are necessarily provisional and will need to be revised as new information becomes available. Nonethe- less, a comprehensive framework and plan should be devel- oped for the North Slope so that decisions can be evaluated with respect to their compatibility with overall goals, the likely effects of individual activities on all receptors that might be affected by them, and the likelihood that the activi- ties will result in undesirable effects that are long-lasting or difficult to reverse. The plan should include all phases of oil and gas activity, from lease sales, to dismantlement and re- moval of infrastructure, to environmental rehabilitation and restoration. The plan also should identify areas for research. Ecosystem Research Most ecological studies in the Prudhoe Bay region have been local; ecosystem-level research has largely been lack- ing. Although ecological communities within an oil field are likely to differ from similar unaffected communities else- where, the extent and nature of the differences are largely unknown. To assess those differences, researchers should be given access to protected areas inside and outside the indus- trial complex. Particular research attention should focus on the ecological processes most likely to be altered by indus- trial activities. Offshore Oil Spills Although no large oil spills have occurred in marine waters off the North Slope, their potential is such a major concern that the committee recommends research into miti- gating their effects. Such research would help refine assess- ments of the accumulation of effects of a major spill in that environment. This committee did not attempt to reach con- sensus on whether, when, and how experimental oil spills might be used in a research program. Other research seems to be warranted, however, including on possible ways of 9 deflecting bowhead whales and perhaps other marine mam- mals from spill-affected areas, and on the effectiveness and environmental liabilities and advantages of nonmechanical methods of cleaning up oil spilled in the sea (dispersants, in- situ burning), especially in broken ice. Zones of Influence The effects of industrial activities are not limited to the footprint of a structure or to its immediate vicinity; a variety of influences can extend some distance from the actual foot- print. They range from the effects of gravel roads and pads on animals, which can extend for several miles from the foot- print, to the influence of industrial structures on wilderness values, which can extend much farther. The full accumula- tion of effects of oil and gas activities to date, as well as future accumulation, cannot be assessed without better quan- titative information about the ways in which various kinds of effects extend for various distances. Human Communities The communities of the North Slope have not been ad- equately involved in most research in the region. As a result, some important information concerning accumulated effects is missing or sparse. To improve the assessment of effects and their accumulation, research on the North Slope should be a cooperative endeavor with local communities. Tradi- tional and local knowledge includes rich and detailed infor- mation about many aspects of the environment. Balancing economic benefits of oil and gas activities against loss of traditional culture often is a dilemma for North Slope resi- dents. Research should be conducted to better characterize the specific benefits and threats that North Slope residents perceive are posed to their way of life and health by oil and gas activities. The studies should attempt to separate the ef- fects of oil and gas activities from other causes of socioeco- nomic change. Research should seek to establish how oil and gas activities have affected the behavior of individuals and communities. Research should be done to identify the direct and indirect monetary rewards and costs including non-use values such as existence and bequest values asso- ciated with petroleum development on the North Slope. Human-Health Effects Human-health effects of oil and gas activities have not been well documented. Although some problems on the North Slope increased use of alcohol and drugs, increased obesity, and other societal ills are evident, it is not possible to say with the limited data available to what degree they are the direct result of oil and gas activities. Other concerns are widespread among Native residents of the North Slope. The degree to which increased financial resources related to oil have balanced adverse effects by improving the quality and
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10 accessibility of local medical care is unknown. These ques- tions are in great need of additional reliable information. Air Contamination and its Effects Air pollution is a concern to many North Slope resi- dents. Little research has been done to quantify the effects of air pollution on the North Slope or to determine how local and regional air masses interact. Air-pollution monitoring has been limited to priority pollutants from 1986 through 2002 at a few sites. Not enough information is available to provide a quantitative baseline of spatial and temporal trends in air quality over long periods across the North Slope. Given local concerns about air quality and the perception that poor air quality is affecting the public health, research and moni- toring should be implemented to distinguish between locally derived emissions and long-range transport of air contami- nants to determine how they interact, and to monitor poten- tial human exposure to them. Off-Roacl Traffic and the Tundra Networks of seismic trails and trails of other off-road vehicles, ice roads, and ice pads cover large areas of the tundra. They cause concern because of the damage they do to vegetation and because of their visibility from the air. Continuing advances in the technology of seismic-data ac- quisition might reduce its effects by reducing the weight, tracks, or number of vehicles used, but the degree to which this will happen is not known because the effects of the new technologies have not yet been extensively studied. Studies are needed to assess the long-term visibility of seismic trails from the air. Research also is needed to deter- mine the amount of snow cover and the frost penetration required to adequately protect the tundra from the effects of seismic exploration and the use of Rolligons (low ground- pressure vehicles) and other off-road vehicles. New areas where oil and gas exploration are likely to occur differ sub- stantially from current areas. Characterization of those en- vironments should include descriptions of topography; permafrost conditions; sand, gravel, and water availability; hydrological conditions; and biotic communities. Caribou and Bowheacl Whales A better understanding is needed of the seasonal habitat requirements of caribou, the natural environmental con- straints that affect their reproductive physiology and move- ments, their vulnerability to natural disturbance, and how anthropogenic disturbance affects them at various times of the year in the Arctic. Studies are needed to determine the qualitative relation- ship between the noise generated by offshore operations and the migratory and acoustic behavior of bowhead whales. The studies should include analysis of the effects of multiple CUMULATIVE EFFECTS OF ALASKA NORTH SLOPE OIL AND GAS noise sources. Better information is also needed about the degree to which bowheads feed in the Alaskan portion of the Beaufort Sea. Consequences of Water Withdrawals Water for ice roads and pads and for other purposes is taken from lakes on the North Slope. Water depth has a great influence on the distribution of fish in coastal-plain lakes because lakes shallower than 1.8 m (6 ft) freeze to the bot- tom in winter. Because most lakes in the existing develop- ment area, between the Colville and Sagavanirktok rivers, are shallower than 1.8 m, few fish are present and effects have been minimal. As development spreads into regions with deeper lakes, such as the Colville delta and the eastern portion of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, there is a greater chance that fish populations will be affected. The current regulatory criterion, which allows 15% of the minimum winter water volume to be removed from fish- bearing lakes, should be studied to determine its ability to prevent loss of fish and invertebrates. A study of the effects of withdrawing water from lakes that do not contain fish should also be conducted to assess the degree to which cur- rent water use affects the biota associated with those bodies of water. Dealing with Uncertainty Actions undertaken to identify and reduce the undesir- able effects of interactions among perturbations and recep- tors should greatly improve the quality and quantity of data for future decision-making. However, for several reasons it is unreasonable to expect that sufficient data will ever be available to meet all needs for information. Some animal species, such as marine mammals and fishes, are intrinsi- cally difficult to study. Detecting even fairly large changes in their population densities and other demographic charac- teristics could be impossible no matter how much money is allocated for research. Also, adequate experimental controls could be impossible to establish. Whenever a statistical test is performed to assess an envi- ronmental effect, the magnitude of the effect that could have gone undetected should be explicitly stated. Those uncertain- ties should be communicated clearly to decision makers. THE ESSENTIAL TRADE-OFF The effects of North Slope industrial development on the physical and biotic environments and on the human soci- eties that live there have accumulated, despite considerable efforts by the petroleum industry and regulatory agencies to minimize them. To the best of its ability, and given the time, data, and resources available, the committee has identified those effects. It has also attempted to assess how effects are likely to accumulate with future expansion of industrial ac-
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SUMMARY tivities into new areas. Continued expansion is certain to exacerbate some existing effects and to generate new ones- possibly calling for regulatory revisions. Whether the ben- efits derived from oil and gas activities justify acceptance of the inevitable accumulated undesirable effects that have ac- companied and will accompany them is an issue for society 11 as a whole to debate and judge. However, if wise decisions are to be made, the nature and extent of undesirable effects likely to accompany future activities must be fully acknowl- edged and incorporated into regulatory strategies and deci- sion-making. We hope this report will assist in the process.
Representative terms from entire chapter: