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1 Introduction In 1968, large oil reserves were discovered along the coast of Alaska's North Slope. The oil field in Prudhoe Bay (Figure 1-1) is now the largest in North America. It is esti- mated that approximately 23 billion bbl (966 billion gal,3.7 trillion liters [L]) of oil originally was in the ground. Produc- tion began in 1977. Since that initial discovery, other large fields have augmented the production from Prudhoe Bay. By the end of 2002, about 14 billion bbl (588 billion gal, 2.2 trillion L) of crude oil had been produced. North Slope oil has averaged about 20% of U.S. domestic production since 1977, and it currently provides about 15% of the annual do- mestic production of approximately 3.3 billion bbl and 7% of the annual domestic consumption of approximately 7 bil- lion bbl. Reliable estimates of technically recoverable re- serves for the North Slope and its adjacent offshore areas are not currently available. There also are huge reserves of coal and natural gas in the region, and if production of those re- sources were to become economically feasible, the strategic and economic importance of the hydrocarbon energy re- sources of the region would be even greater. The term North Slope refers to the area from the crest of the Brooks Range to the Arctic coast, from the Canadian border to Point Hope. Although the area is more correctly called the Arctic Slope, the Committee on Cumulative Envi- : I: |l:~ ~ :$ -.r ~ -.:~. ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~> ~ ~ 3 ::~ :~ : ::: I:-:- ::: ~ ~ >~$ ~> ~ ~ i i 0!i ~ :: I.:: :~::: :::: ::: ::~:#~..f..~:.:~:.:~: i:: :::_:::.: :~: Are: :::~ ~ ~~ ~~ ~ ~~ A~u : ~( ,, i : : :::::: :::s :;:~- ]:: :: :: :: :: ~ :: :: :: it, i : :: :: :: ~:::i, ~ :: :: :: ~ :~ I Ad: ~ .. :: :: :~g -Gil, ~ ;e 3 1~,,, 1 . ~ FIGURE 1-1 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. 12
INTRODUCTION ronmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska's North Slope has elected to follow convention and use North Slope in this report. The benefits brought by oil and gas production on the North Slope have come with environmental concerns and consequences. One of the earliest major environmental im- pact statements (EISs) was a 6-volume effort (DOI 1972a) that examined the effects of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. As production on the North Slope increased, many other studies and EISs have been produced, and knowledge of the effects of oil and gas exploration and development has increased substantially. Environmental concerns about exploration and development on the North Slope have focused on many sub- jects, including but not limited to the following: · the effects of structures on the migration of fish and large mammals, especially caribou · the effects on the tundra of off-road travel · the effects on bowhead whales and other marine mammals of seismic exploration and industrial noise · the risk of toxic contamination of fish, wildlife, and plants used for food by Alaska Natives · the effects of roads (both gravel and ice) · the effects of oil spills on terrestrial, marine, and coastal ecosystems and on the humans that depend on them · the effects on a variety of ecosystems of transporta- tion of material, supplies, and people · the extent to which effects are reversible · whether remediation is possible and will actually be undertaken Concerns have also focused on social consequences, such as the effects of new roads and access to formerly isolated com- munities; the socioeconomic effects of jobs related to oil and gas development; the effects on subsistence practices, either as a result of the introduction of a wage economy or because of environmental change; and loss of wildland and wilder- ness values. There is an extensive research literature on the actual and potential effects of oil and gas activity on the North Slope's physical, biotic, and human environments (e.g., BP 1991; Engelhardt 1985; Kruse et al. 1982; Loughlin 1994; MMS 1990a,b, 1991, 1992; Truett and Johnson 2000; Walker et al. 1986a, 1987a,b). Much of this work has been sponsored by the Outer Continental Shelf Environmental Assessment Program (OCSEAP) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of the Interior and by OCSEAP's successor, the Environmental Studies Program of the Department of the Interior. Addi- tional research has been funded by the U.S. Army, the Na- tional Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Energy. Many studies have been per- formed and funded by the oil industry, and university re- searchers have contributed a large amount of information 13 about the region. Despite the considerable research since the 1960s to assess the effects of oil and gas exploration, devel- opment, and production, no integrated, comprehensive analysis of cumulative impacts has been attempted. Under- standing the cumulative effects of oil and gas development at a variety of locations over time is critical to informed, long-term decision-making about resource management. THE PRESENT STUDY In 1999, the U.S. Congress asked the National Research Council for assistance in addressing this gap in understand- ing (U.S. Congress: Conf. Rept 106-379 [H.R. 26841 Fiscal Year 2000 Appropriations for the Environmental Protection Agency). In response, the Council established the Commit- tee on Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska's North Slope and charged it with pro- viding a comprehensive analysis, including conclusions and recommendations (Box 1-1~. 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 evi- dence of environmental effects. As a result, the committee did not consider releases of compounds that could affect glo- bal atmospheric chemistry or the contribution of the burning of North Slope oil to global climate warming. The contribu- tion of North Slope oil and gas activities to the accumulation of such atmospheric effects is small on a global basis. Cli- mate change is considered as it interacts with the effects of oil and gas activities on the North Slope. The committee' s 18 members, who are experts in a wide range of disciplines (see Appendix K), met eight times over the course of the study. The committee relied on its mem- bers' expertise, on an extensive review of the literature, and on information gathered from public meetings held through- out the state. Meetings and site visits were held in Alpine, Anchorage, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Arctic Vil- lage, Endicott, Fairbanks, Kaktovik on Barter Island, and the Prudhoe Bay oil field. Appendix A lists those who made presentations and otherwise assisted the committee. UNDERSTANDING AND ASSESSING CUMULATIVE ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS The ecologist W.E. Odum wrote (1982) that when nu- merous small decisions about related environmental issues are made independently, the combined consequences of those decisions are not considered. As a result, the patterns of the environmental perturbations or their effects over large areas and long periods are not analyzed. This is the basic issue of cumulative effects assessment. The general approach to identifying and assessing cumulative effects evolved after passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, and the committee has followed that approach.
14 Although the NEPA requires EISs for many major projects, if those projects are considered separately from similar projects or in isolation from different kinds of projects in the same area, some of their effects their cumu- lative effects are likely to be missed. In 1978, the Council on Environmental Quality promulgated regulations imple- menting the NEPA that are binding on all federal agencies (40 CFR Parts 1500-1508 [19781~. A cumulative effect was defined as "the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future ac- tions.... Cumulative impacts can result from individually minor but collectively significant actions taking place over a period of time." For example, an EIS might conclude that the environmental effects of a single power plant on an estu- ary might be small and, hence, judged to be acceptable. But the effects of a dozen plants on the estuary are likely to be substantial, and perhaps of a different nature than the effects of a single plant in other words, they are likely to accumu- late. Even a series of EISs might not identify or predict that accumulation to produce those more serious or different ef- fects that result from the interaction of multiple activities. Cumulative impact assessment (CIA) arose to address such considerations. 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 combined with other effects, and under what circumstances and to what degree they might CUMULATIVE EFFECTS OF ALASKA NORTH SLOPE OIL AND GAS accumulate. As an example, consider a repeated environ- mental insult that is localized in space and occurs so infre- quently that natural processes of recovery or human efforts 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 effected. This approach also directs attention to the circumstances under which effects might accumulate. The accumulation of effects can result from a variety of processes (NRC 1986~. The most important ones are: · Time crowding frequent and repeated effects on a single environmental medium. This would be the case, for example, if repeated oil spills occurred on an area of tundra before that area had recovered from previous spills. Time crowding also can result if there are long delays before the effects of an action are fully manifest. An increase in the melting of permafrost might not become apparent until de- cades after the actions that caused it were initiated. · Space crowding high density of effects on a single environmental medium, such as a concentration of drilling pads in a small region so that the areas affected by individual pads overlap. Space crowding can result even from actions that occur at great distances from one another. For example, air pollution from temperate latitudes can interact with local sources of contamination to increase atmospheric haze on the North Slope. · Compounding effects synergistic effects attributable to multiple sources on a single environmental medium, such as the combined effects of gaseous and liquid emissions from multiple sources on a single area, or nonlinear effects, or interaction of natural and anthropogenic effects, such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and E1 Nino events. · Thresholds effects that become qualitatively differ- ent once some threshold of disturbance is reached, such as when eutrophication exhausts the oxygen in a lake, convert- ing it to a different type of lake. · Nibbling progressive loss of habitat resulting from a sequence of activities, each of which has fairly innocuous consequences, but the consequences on the environment ac- cumulate, for example by causing the extirpation of a spe- cies from the area. These examples illustrate why recognizing and measuring the accumulation of effects depends on the correct choice of domain temporal, spatial for the assessment. If the time domain chosen to analyze the effects of a power plant on an estuary is the plant's period of operation and the space do- main is that covered by its exhaust plume, then the accumu- lation of the effects of multiple plants will be missed if a series of EISs analyzes each plant in isolation. Alternatively, if the space domain is the entire estuary, and the time do- main is long enough to include the commissioning of several plants, then at least some accumulation of effects is likely to be detected. Effects typically accumulate as the result of re-
INTRODUCTION pealed activities of similar or different types. However, in some cases the effects of a single action or event can accu- mulate. This is especially true if the effects persist for a long time and are added to by the effects of other activities, with the result that there is a change from what would have re- sulted if the single event had not occurred. Although the assessment of cumulative effects has a his- tory of several decades (e.g., NRC 1986), it is still a complex task. The responses of the many components of the environ- ment (receptors) likely to be affected by an action or series of actions differ in nature and in the areas and periods over which they are manifest. An action or series of actions might have effects that accumulate on some receptors but not on others, or on a given receptor at one time of the year but not at another. Therefore, a full analysis of how and when ef- fects accumulate requires multiple assessments. To address this problem the committee attempted to identify the essential components of a such an assessment: · Specify the class of actions whose effects are to be analyzed. · Designate the appropriate time and space domain in which the relevant actions occur. · Identify and characterize the set of receptors to be assessed. · Determine the magnitude of effects on the receptors and whether those effects are accumulating. These criteria cannot always be applied because of data limi- tations. As will become apparent later in this report, the ef- fects of individual actions range from brief or local to wide- spread, long-lasting, and sometimes irreversible. At the most general level, the class of actions consid- ered by the committee encompasses all of those associated with oil and gas development. The spatial domain is the North Slope of Alaska and its adjacent marine waters. The temporal domain is 1965 to 2025, or in some cases 2050, and the receptors are the physical, biological, and human sys- tems in the region. The committee conducted analyses of specific activi- ties (e.g., seismic exploration, road building, gravel min- ing), and determined their most significant effects (indi- vidual or collective) on specific receptors (e.g., tundra vegetation, species of special concern, subsistence hunt- ing, employment). A particularly challenging problem is to determine the area over which the effects of an activity, such as building a drilling pad, a road, or a seismic survey trail, are felt. Some analyses measure the effects of an activity by its "foot- print" the physical area covered by a drilling pad or road, for example although the effects can extend well beyond that space. The effects of a road extend beyond the actual physical area where the gravel smothers vegetation. Large vehicles make noise that can frighten wildlife some distance from the road; they raise dust that settles downwind, affect- 15 ing the timing of snow melt and thus the underlying vegeta- tion. Roads also impede drainage. A highway can increase access and thus bring hunters to an area. All of these effects can be defined and measured. To conduct an analysis of how effects accumulate, one must understand what would occur in the absence of a given activity. The accumulated effects are the difference be- tween that probable history and the actual history or pro- jected effects of the action. Such analyses are most readily accomplished if good baseline data are available or if data are available about the same kinds of receptors in similar areas that are not influenced by comparable actions. In some cases, the lack of such information prevented the committee from identifying and assessing possible effects of some activities. In estimating the accumulation of effects it is customary to assume that the only source of environmental change is the action under study, and that the environmental setting itself has no bearing. There is a challenging complication in the Alaskan Arctic, however, because the climate is expected to warm so rapidly that the effects of current activities could be much greater on the permafrost landscape than would be the case if the climate were relatively stable.) The com- mittee's prediction of the accumulation of effects over sev- eral decades has been limited by ignorance of the details of how this climate change will proceed and thus of its poten- tial effects on North Slope ecosystems. Even if accumulating effects are identified, their magni- tude and their biological, economic, and social importance must be assessed. Discontinuities or inflection points in bi- otic or social relationships, a change in some important pro- cess, or the widespread perception of members of an affected community of the importance of some change are generally associated with environmentally or socially important ef- fects. The committee assessed biotic and social importance separately for each receptor. Although the committee was directed to evaluate the cumulative effects of oil and gas activities on the North Slope, the accumulation of physical, biotic, and human envi- ronmental effects of those activities extends beyond the re- gion. Moreover, activities elsewhere in the world influence what happens to the North Slope environment. Although the committee followed its charge and concentrated attention on the North Slope, external effects had to be considered in situ- ations where they combine with activities on the North Slope to influence the nature and extent of environmental effects there. ~ The largest human contribution to climate warming is the burning of fossil hydrocarbon fuels. Although the resultant climate change affects the North Slope probably more than lower-latitude areas this effect is not considered as an effect of North Slope oil and gas activities in this report because the North Slope provides only a small fraction of all the fossil hydrocarbons burned on earth. However, it is an important factor that must be considered in all analyses of this type.
6 SOURCES OF KNOWLEDGE Information about Alaska's North Slope, the function- ing of its human communities and ecosystems, and the ef- fects of industrial activities during the past century comes from many sources, including peer-reviewed literature, gov- ernment reports, and industry documents. The committee made a special effort to evaluate and incorporate the tradi- tional and local knowledge of residents of the North Slope. People have lived on the North Slope since long before in- dustrial activity began, and because they have had intimate, sustained contact with the immediate environment, they pro- vide a unique source of knowledge. The committee did not compare the North Slope with the Russian experience be- cause despite some environmental similarities environ- mental laws and regulations, societal factors, and economic systems are very different from Alaska's, and because reli- able information is not easy to obtain. Despite the evident value of the traditional and local knowledge of Alaska Natives, their insights have been poorly incorporated into the overall public perception, both on and off the North Slope, about cumulative changes and their causes. The reasons for this failure are generally understood (Box 1-2, Appendix H), but the problem is still largely unre- solved (but see Kofinas et al. [20021 and Huntington [20001 for descriptions of incorporation of traditional knowledge into research on environmental change in the Arctic). Most cross-cultural collaborations have been informal and occur on a case-by-case basis. They often begin because of the interest and commitment of individual researchers who have no special training in working across cultures. There are few policy directives and only limited financial support for use of traditional and local knowledge or for researchers to engage in cross-cultural awareness and communication orientation programs. Consequently, institutional commit- ment to understanding and using traditional and local knowl- edge for stewardship and research has been subject to shifts in emphasis as governments change. Those shifts are a source of frustration and distrust for Alaska Natives who have to undertake extensive and costly efforts to educate new ad- ministrators, policy-makers, and managers each time they change. Scientists find it difficult to assess the quality and spa- tial scales of relevance of much traditional knowledge, so it is difficult to determine whether the observations offered by any Alaska Native collaborator are valid. Alaska Natives, for their part, have told the committee that they are some- times skeptical of the scientific motivations to acquire infor- mation and thus can be reluctant to cooperate or participate. Moreover, they are rarely involved in the formative stages of collaborative research, and for the most part they are not involved in the actual research efforts. In addition, many Alaska Native elders, who are potentially important sources of information, do not speak English fluently or at all, and they are not schooled in communicating with Western cul- CUMULATIVE EFFECTS OF ALASKA NORTH SLOPE OIL AND GAS
INTRODUCTION sure, thus diminishing the value of any information ex- changes that may occur. Traditional and local knowledge can provide useful, qualitative information to scientists and an early warning system for identifying emergent biological or environmental trends and anomalies in local, regional, or ecosystem-wide geographical areas. For example, Alaska Natives in the Arc- tic have reported changes in migration patterns of the bow- head whale, changes in the thickness and elasticity of seal skins, and changes in the taste and color of "Eskimo tea." Many changes in wildlife are apparent only to people who interact with the animals regularly; scientists who do not eat the local diet would not know, for example, that the taste of seal meat has changed no matter how much research has been conducted. If communication and collaboration were improved, traditional and local knowledge could provide scientists with new and timely hypotheses to pursue in their search for the causes of wildlife declines. Traditional and local knowledge can influence many aspects of research, but better and more systematic ways to access and use this information must be developed if that value is to be realized (e.g., Huntington 2000~. The process must consider, among other things, issues of communication protocols, dispute resolution, and information exchange; ap- propriate use of information; protocols for attribution of in- formation sources; compensation for research collaborators; community relations; and cross-cultural communications and cultural-awareness training. The failure to seek and use traditional and local knowledge can have far-reaching con- sequences, including the loss of time and resources. The as- sessment of changes in the bowhead whale population is one instance in which traditional knowledge has been incorpo- rated into the design and conduct of a major, long-term re- search effort (Albert 2001~. Bowheacl Whales Estimating population size for the Bering Sea bowhead population became a priority in the mid- to late 1970s when there was increasing concern in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) that the subsistence harvest in Alaska was unduly pressuring the stock. At the same time, there was growing interest in offshore petroleum development. All of this prompted the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the U.S. Department of Commerce to undertake a popula- tion estimate. In 1976 and 1977 observers were placed at the seaward edge of the shore-fast ice near Point Barrow, where the passing whales came close to shore. Their data suggested a population of 600-2,000 whales (Tillman 1980~. Data from 1978 and 1979 (Braham et al. 1980), which included ice- based and aerial surveys, yielded an estimate of 1,783-2,865 (mean 2,264) whales (Braham et al. 1980~. The numbers were so low that the IWC initially set a 1978 harvest quota of zero whales. However, a revised quota of 12 landed or 18 struck was set after a special IWC meeting was called by the 17 United States. This experience alarmed bowhead-dependent communities in Alaska, who believed their hunt was being unduly restricted because the whale counters were not count- ing the whales accurately (Albert 2001~. In the early 1980s, the responsibility for estimating bow- head population size was transferred to the people of north- ern Alaska. By then, a substantial difference had developed in views between the Alaska Native hunters and most scien- tists familiar with the bowhead issue. The "scientific wis- dom" of the late 1970s was that the northward migrating bowhead whales traveled primarily in elongated open areas (leads) in the deteriorating and drifting ice, and that most of the passing whales could be counted by observers at the sea- ward edge of the shore-fast ice. Alaska Native hunters cited their own observations, as well as information handed down through the generations, that bowheads passing Point Barrow move on a broad front (to about 20 km [12 mid wide) and are not restricted to large areas of open water. They also move through areas of broken ice and heavy ice, not just through areas of open water, and they use their heads to fracture ice from below to produce small breathing holes that are easily missed by observers (Albert 1996, 2001; George et al. 1989~. The Natives there- fore believed that the population estimate of 2,000 animals was far too low. Those comments were considered by scientists of the NMFS and others and a multiyear counting program was designed to assess them. The new census used both ice-based visual observations and acoustical techniques to help detect passing whales. During the spring field season of 1984 the use of passive acoustics used to locate calling whales at distances of 16-19 km (10-12 mi) was fully integrated into the census (Clark et al. 1985, Dronenburg et al. 1986~. To correlate the number of calls with the number of pass- ing whales, a tracking algorithm linked a sequence of acoustic locations, visual sightings, or both to form a whale track (Ellison et al.1987a,b, Ko and Zeh 1988, Sonntag et al.1986~. The acoustical techniques, the associated tracking algorithm, and the related complex statistical analysis allow the visual and acoustic data to be combined (Clark et al.1996; Clark and Ellison 1988, 1989; Sonntag et al. 1986; Zeh et al. 1990) to produce more accurate population estimates. Those estimates are submitted annually to the IWC's Scientific Committee for rigorous peer review. During the 1987 Scientific Committee meeting, that group agreed to a best estimate of 7,200 whales (2,400 standard error) (Gentlemen and Zeh 1987, IWC 1988, Zeh et al. 1988~. Over the next several years, as the tracking algorithm, acoustic techniques, and statistical techniques were refined, the population size estimate became more precise and the harvest quota increased. By 1996, the IWC-accepted esti- mate was 8,200 whales (with a 95% confidence interval from 7,200 to 9,400) (IWC 1997, Raftery and Zeh 1998~. The esti- mated annual rate of increase (after hunting removals) from 1978 to 1993 was 3.2% (with a 95% confidence interval of 1.4-5.1) (Raftery and Zeh 1998~.
18 Thus, after many years of intensive study, the assertions of Alaska Native hunters were verified (Albert 2001~. This prolonged and continuing effort is one significant instance in which several aspects of traditional knowledge have been confirmed by scientific study and have been used in man- agement decisions. REPORT ORGANIZATION Chapters 2 and 3 set the stage by describing the hu- man, physical, and biotic environments of Alaska's North Slope. They are not intended to be exhaustive. They present only enough information for a general overview. Chapter 4 provides the history of oil and gas activities on the North Slope. It includes brief descriptions of how oil is found, extracted, and transported, and it describes the physical in- frastructure of North Slope oil fields. It ends with descrip- tions of recent technological advances and of how oil and gas activities can affect the environment. Chapter 5 is the committee's analysis of a plausible scenario of future in- dustrial activity that assumes continued exploration and production. It provides the basis for the committee's pre- dictions of how the effects of oil and gas activities might accumulate in the future. Chapters 6-9 treat the physical environment, plants, ani- mals, and humans, respectively, as receptors of environmen- tal effects. Those chapters present the committee's assess- ments of the effects to date and the degree to which they CUMULATIVE EFFECTS OF ALASKA NORTH SLOPE OIL AND GAS have accumulated, and their potential to accumulate in the future. The committee also identifies some effects that ap- pear not to have been serious or to have accumulated to date. Each chapter includes a summary of the committee's find- ings and research recommendations. Chapter 10 describes knowledge gaps and recommends research; Chapter 11 sum- marizes the committee's findings about major effects and their accumulation. A series of appendixes provides additional detail on a variety of topics. They include information on committee meeting places, dates, and participants (Appendix A); ab- breviations and their meanings (Appendix B); a history of factors that influence petroleum exploration and develop- ment on the North Slope (Appendix C); and a description of recent technological developments (Appendix D). Appendix E provides the analysis of oil industry data, provided mainly by BP, that was performed for the committee by Aeromap, Inc. Appendixes F and G describe spills of oil and saline water on the North Slope and some of their effects. Appen- dix H is a signed essay by a North Slope Native on reconcil- ing traditional and Western scientific knowledge. Appendix I, reproduced from an EIS for leasing in the Beaufort Sea, describes the legal framework for oil and gas activities on state lands of the North Slope. Appendix J describes a method for analyzing how economic consequences of long- lasting biotic and physical effects might accumulate. Ap- pendix K provides biographical information about the committee' s members.