9 Environs 1 (1985)

handle is hein.journals/environs9 and id is 1 raw text is: UCD School of Law                                  Vol. 9 No. 1
Environmental Law Society                           March 1985
Environmental Review of Outer Continental
Shelf Development: the Fint Ridge Legacy
by Fern Shepard

Norton Sound, Alaska
When Prudhoe Bay on Alaska's North
Slope was confirmed in 1968 to hold oil
reserves of up to 10 billion barrels, a new
record was established for the largest
petroleum deposit in the United States.
The discovery's magnitude seized the
attention of the domestic oil industry.
Alaska's outer continental shelf (OCS)
has been abuzz with activity ever since,
as dozens of oil companies search for
comparable reserves.
Norton Sound, on Alaska's western
coast, opens into the Bering and Chukchi
Seas. Native towns and villages dot its
circumference, with Seward Peninsula to
the north and the mouth of Alaska's
principal river, the Yukon, to the south.
Icebound during the long winters, during
the summer Norton Sound is an estuary
for numerous bird species; a home for
porpoises, walrus, and seals; and part of
the migratory pathway for bowhead,
sperm, and beluga whales.
Norton Sound soon may be home for
offshore oil drilling platforms. The central
portion has been leased by the U.S.
Department of the Interior to companies
seeking exploitable reserves. But as the
companies gear up to explore their
tracts, the human residents fear that the
region's wildlife, its delicate ecology, and
their traditional cultures are in jeopardy.
Before any exploration begins, they urge
assessment of the possible adverse ef-
fects and the precautions necessary to
avert their occurrence.
This article sketches one of the hurdles
that the Norton Sound community and

others concerned about the impacts of
OCS development now face. Although a
primary goal of the National Environ-
mental Policy Act was to provide ad-
ditional consideration of environmetnal
impacts in such situations, the means to
do so could be precluded by a technical
reading of the U.S. Supreme Court's Flint
Ridge decision.
Statutory Framework for OCS
Petroleum and natural gas reserves on
the OCS of the United States represent
an enormous potential for energy in-
dependence. Divorced from the whims of
OPEC and international politics, domes-
tic OCS supplies have attracted the
attention of the federal government and
the energy industry. Engineering ad-
vances have provided an indispensible
foundation for expanded OCS opera-
tions by permitting safer and more ef-
ficient development at greater depths
and distances from shore. However, the
highly publicized Santa Barbara and
North Sea blowouts, coupled with mas-
sive oil spills in the Delaware Riverand off
the Massachusetts coast, have engen-
dered potent opposition to OCS devel-
opment without stringent environmental
The federal government regulates de-
velopment activity on the OCS under the
Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act
(OCSLA), 43 U.S.C. 1331 et. seq. Since
the 1978 amendment of OCSLA, four
distinct stages in development of an

offshore oil well have been defined under
the Act: (1) specification of a five year
leasing plan by the Department of the
Interior; (2) lease sales of tracts on the
OCS; (3) exploration for oil and gas by
the lessees; and (4) development and
production. Each stage is subject to
separate and independent governmental
regulation. OCSLA itself defines its pur-
pose as providing for expeditious and
orderly develpment, subject to environ-
mental safequards. 43 USC 1332(3).
The National Environmental Policy Act
of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et. seq.,
expresses a federal policy to address
environmental impacts, and generally
applies to all federal actions regardless of
their underlying source of authorization.
NEPA requires the preparation of an
environmental impact statement (EIS)
for all majorfederal actions significantly
affecting the quality of the human en-
vironment. 42 U.S.C. 4332(2) (C). Given
the definite federal involvement in OCS
resource development under OCSLA,
there is little question whether NEPA
applies. The issue is when: with four
distinct stages, when is an EIS required?
The issue raised at Norton Sound is
whether a site-specific EIS is required at
Stage 3, when leaseholders begin ex-
ploring their OCS tracts for recoverable
resources. EIS's are not currently re-
quired until Stage 4, when development
and production occur. However, there
are two critical characteristics of Stage 3.
First, significant physical activities com-
mence at this stage with platform in-
stallation, sonic testing, and initiation of
drilling. For the first time in the process,

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