New strategy needed to cope with Arctic environmental changes - U.S. report

ANCHORAGE, Alaska Fri Apr 5, 2013 10:39am IST

A ringed seal pup peeks out from its protective snow cave near Kotzebue, Alaska in this handout photo dated May 1, 2011. REUTERS/Michael Cameron/NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center/Files

A ringed seal pup peeks out from its protective snow cave near Kotzebue, Alaska in this handout photo dated May 1, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Michael Cameron/NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center/Files

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - With the warming U.S. Arctic region poised for greater oil and mining development, the White House needs to develop a national strategy that can take environmental decisions on a larger scale, a report issued Thursday concluded.

The study recommends greater coordination between federal, state and local agencies to better manage resources in Alaska, said the U.S. Department of Interior's Alaska Interagency Working Group in its report that was presented to President Barack Obama.

"It is imperative that we reduce redundancies and streamline federal efforts as we safely and responsibly explore and develop Alaska's vast resources while preserving the region's rich ecosystems," David Hayes, the deputy interior secretary and working group chairman said in a statement.

The study's release follows a trouble-plagued offshore Arctic drilling season conducted by Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L), and comes as several other energy, mining and shipping companies are poised to do business in the region.

The report urged regulators to work jointly on environmental reviews of projects instead of considering each proposal in isolation, and to identify special ecological and cultural areas that might need protection from an expected rush of companies seeking to extract oil, minerals and other Arctic resources.

Such an intensive approach to environmental management is needed because of profound changes as the Arctic warms and atmospheric carbon dioxide accumulates in the Arctic Ocean, making the frigid waters more acidic and imperiling shellfish and other marine life.

Both environmentalists and oil-industry representatives welcomed the report.

"As far as I know, no one's ever tried to pull all of this together in one place before," said Michael LeVine, Pacific senior counsel for the environmental group Oceana.

However, it is unclear whether management changes will follow, LeVine said. "There's a lot of recommendations in here, none of which have any requirement that they be implemented," he said.

Kara Moriarty, executive director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said the report could help pave the way for responsible future development.

"It's no secret - there is a microscope on the Arctic," she said. "There is a very heightened awareness about how development in the Arctic is going to proceed."

Energy and mining companies and marine shippers submitted their own recommendations for future management of Alaska's Arctic region, much of which focused in easing impediments to development.

(Reporting by Yereth Rosen; Editing by Tim Gaynor, Mary Wisniewski and Lisa Shumaker)

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