Washington, DC — The Interior Department directed its scientists to exclude any assessments of the high likelihood that offshore oil drilling would introduce invasive species into Arctic waters, according to internal agency e-mails released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, careful review of the invasive species impacts was short-circuited to speed issuance of permits for exploration and development despite clear warnings of serious environmental dangers.
Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) went so far as to remove its specialist from further work on the issue because he “refused to implement DOI [Interior] and MMS policy vis-à-vis invasive species” which is that –
“Bottom line: No information regarding seismic vessels introducing invasive species on the OCS [Outer Continental Shelf]…”
This directive came in response to a June 14, 2006 e-mail from now former MMS biologist Jeff Childs, who wrote his chain-of-command –
“Again, I am warning you that MMS permitted activities that involve bringing vessels, rigs, platforms, etc. to Alaska from Outside are likely to bring with them species that are not native to Alaska, some of which may be introduced and become invasive species…The introduction [of] non-native species to Alaska waters that subsequently become invasive may very well yield much greater significant adverse impacts than a large oil spill.”
To justify its stance, MMS claimed that the issue of invasive species was the unique province of the U.S. Coast Guard. Childs, however, made clear that exotic species would likely take root “without additional mitigation measures beyond those in the existing U.S. Coast Guard regulations which do not prevent such introductions.” Childs added that the Coast Guard “specifically acknowledged such” in its assessments.
“Something is rotten in Alaska,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that invasive species were only one of several environmental issues in which agency scientists’ work was suppressed or altered. “It is unconscionable that Interior is hiding behind the bureaucratic dodge that ‘it is not my department’ in suppressing analysis of what may be a major and irreversible changes in the Arctic ecosystem.”
While MMS contends that it has done complete environmental assessments of its Arctic offshore drilling permits, its own specialists – many of whom have left in recent months – vehemently disagree. After he was removed from any role on invasive species issues and his work on native fish populations was altered, Childs resigned from MMS in disgust. In addition, MMS chose to ignore state and federal experts who seconded the warnings from MMS staff scientists.
Congress is now holding hearings on MMS plans to open vast areas of the Chukchi, Beaufort and Bering Seas to petroleum development before the end of the Bush administration.