Murkowski Welcomes Fish and Wildlife Service Polar Bear Final ITRs

Final Regulations Ensure Ongoing Oil and Gas Development Operations on the North Slope

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently published the final marine mammal Incidental Take Regulations (ITR), commonly known as the Polar Bear ITRs, for the Beaufort Sea (Alaska and the Outer Continental Shelf) and adjacent northern coast of Alaska. The final regulations come after Senator Murkowski repeatedly pressed Department of the Interior officials on the importance of issuing updated regulations as the last ITRs expired this month. 

On May 18 during a nomination hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski secured a commitment from Shannon Estenoz, now Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, to publish a proposed ITR by June 1 and final regulations by August. Murkowski worked alongside industry, government, state, and local partners to ensure that the updated ITRs were a priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

“The new regulations allow for oil and gas development to continue on the North Slope for the foreseeable future. I thank the Fish and Wildlife Service, in particular their career staff, technical experts, and Assistant Secretary Estenoz, for conducting a robust public comment period and meeting the August deadline that we had previously established.” said Senator Murkowski. “I will continue to work with Fish and Wildlife Service as they implement the new regulations.”

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972, the “take” – that is, to harass, hunt, capture, kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill – of marine mammals is generally prohibited. Limited exceptions are provided for, and can be requested by U.S. citizens in the form of Incidental Take Regulations or Incidental Harassment Authorizations, for five years and one year respectively. The new ITRs allow for the nonlethal, incidental, unintentional take of marine mammals that may result from oil and gas exploration, development, production, and transportation activities on the North Slope and adjacent waters over the next five years. The regulations include mitigation measures, so that these activities will have minimal adverse impact on marine mammals and their habitats. 

“The final incidental take regulations ensure continued operation of essential oil and gas activities on the North Slope while fully protecting marine mammals. This will allow our long track record of responsible development on the North Slope and implementation of best management practices,” said Kara Moriarty, President & CEO of AOGA.