- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 9, 2010

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA (AP) - Actor Ted Danson will testify Tuesday at a public hearing in Anchorage on environmental concerns from a 2008 petroleum lease sale in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea.

Danson, a longtime ocean advocate, is in Anchorage filming the movie “Everybody Loves Whales,” starring Drew Barrymore. A representative for the conservation group Oceana announced Danson will testify at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement hearing.

The former Minerals Management Service in February 2008 conducted a lease sale in the Chukchi off Alaska’s northwest coast, receiving high bids totaling $2.7 billion and issuing 487 leases. A subsidiary of Shell Oil accounted for most of the bidding, submitting high bids of $2.1 billion.

The company hoped to drill exploratory wells in the Chukchi in summer 2010, but its plans have been blocked by legal and regulatory challenges, including a lawsuit over the sale.

Environmental and Alaska Native and environmental groups, including Oceana, claimed the lease sale was conducted improperly. And in July, a federal court judge said environmental information was lacking.

The BOEMRE is collecting testimony on the effect of possible natural gas development and whether missing information is essential.

Oceana attorney Mike LeVine said Danson’s testimony will focus on the lack of basic scientific information about the Chukchi Sea ecosystem. Danson also will discuss the lack of response capabilities if a spill occurs.

Shell Alaska Vice President Pete Slaiby said last month the company will limit its 2011 plans to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska’s north coast.

The company faces other hurdles to Arctic Ocean drilling.

After the BP deep-water oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar imposed a drilling “suspension” in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Slaiby said Shell needs a decision by December to move forward with its 2011 plans, which involve moving north a drilling ship and a small fleet of support vessels, including spill response boats.

Shell contends drilling in the far shallower Arctic waters can be done safely absent the challenges of deep-water drilling in the gulf.

Environmental and some Alaska Native groups bitterly oppose drilling in Arctic waters, which lack a deep-water port and other infrastructure that could be useful for cleanup of a major spill.

The nearest Coast Guard base is more than 1,000 miles away in Kodiak and spill cleanup could be slowed by notorious Arctic coast weather, ice and darkness.

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