History of Protection
After the Exxon Valdez tanker spill in Prince William Sound in 1989, Bristol Bay residents worked together to protect their waters from offshore oil and gas development. They succeeded in their call for Congress to include Bristol Bay in the nearly nationwide moratorium on offshore drilling.
Congress removed Bristol Bay from the Congressional moratorium in 2003. In 2007, President George W. Bush lifted the Presidential moratorium for Bristol Bay, ending nearly twenty years of bipartisan protection for the fishery-rich, waters of Bristol Bay. In 2010 President Obama reinstated protection for the region until 2017. This history clearly shows the need a permanent removal of Bristol Bay from future lease sales.
Bristol Bay Protection Timeline
1986 —Despite broad community and State opposition, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) held the North Aleutian Basin Lease Sale #92. The North Aleutian Basin planning area incorporates all of Bristol Bay and adjacent waters out to Unimak Pass. Over 5.6 million acres were offered for bid within the planning area. However, under a court order, MMS could not open the oil company bids. They were kept in a locked vault pending the outcome of lawsuits filed by the State of Alaska and roughly 20 Native, fishing and conservation groups. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals gave the go-ahead for offshore leases to be sold in Bristol Bay in October 1988.
1988 — MMS opened the bids. Eight oil companies paid $95,439,500 for 23 lease blocks covering 121,757 acres. The companies were Shell, Amoco, Chevron, Murphy Oil, Odeco, Union, Penzoil and Conoco.
1989 —The Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into the pristine waters of Prince William Sound. The people of Bristol Bay urged Congress again to protect our ocean waters from offshore oil and gas drilling and this time succeeded. Bristol Bay was added to the nearly nationwide congressional moratorium on offshore oil and gas development.
1990 — President George Herbert Walker Bush, Sr. used his power under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to withdraw areas offshore California, southern Florida, the North Atlantic states, Washington and Oregon from leasing consideration until after 2000. (Source: U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy Final Report, July 22, 2004. Page 354.)
1998 — President Bill Clinton added the North Aleutian Basin, including Alaska’s fishery-rich Bristol Bay, to President George Herbert Walker Bush’s existing executive leasing withdrawals and also extended the duration of all such executive protections until June 30, 2012.
2003 — Bristol Bay lost congressional protection. On November 10, President George W. Bush signed the Interior Appropriations Act for 2004 in which Congress lifted its ban on offshore drilling in Bristol Bay. This roll back left only the presidential withdrawal safeguarding Bristol Bay from oil and gas drilling. Without the congressional moratorium, the U.S. Department of the Interior was able to include the federal waters of Bristol Bay in their Proposed 5–Year Program for Outer Continental Shelf Leasing 2007–2012.
January 2007 - President George W. Bush lifted the ban on offshore drilling in Bristol Bay by rescinding the executive leasing (presidential) withdrawal for Bristol Bay.
April 2007 - The Minerals Management Service Announced its Final 5-Year Program for Outer Continental Shelf. The plan includes a Lease Sale in Bristol Bay scheduled for 2011.
March 2010 - President Barack Obama reinstates protection for Bristol Bay until 2017. The decision came in the context of a review of national offshore oil and gas leasing programs and canceled the Bristol Bay sale that had been moving forward for 2011. Obama reinstated protection for the region from offshore drilling through 2017 by way of a presidential withdrawal of the area from leasing.
Background on the Congressional Moratorium and Presidential Withdrawal
Congressional moratorium: In the early 1980s, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the branch of the federal government that manages offshore Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas resources attempted to offer virtually all waters around the U.S. to oil and gas companies. There was a loud community outcry from Barrow, Alaska to Key West, Florida. Fishermen nation–wide organized to protect their fishing grounds. Bowhead whale hunters worked to protect areas important for whale migration. Tourist businesses and coastal residents focused on protecting highly vulnerable areas such as coral reefs. As a result, Congress stepped in with the offshore drilling moratorium. Each year since 1982, Congress has passed a measure in the Interior Appropriations bill to prohibit oil and gas leasing or exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf off the vast majority of the nation's coastline.
Presidential withdrawal: Under section 12 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), the President has the power to withdraw certain areas from offshore leasing. This is called a presidential withdrawal, also referred to as an executive withdrawal or presidential moratorium. The past three presidents have used the power of withdrawal to reinforce protection for the areas under the congressional moratorium.