Dunton is tapped by U.S. Dept. of Interior
Port Aransan Ken Dunton has been appointed by U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to a select panel of scientists who advise the secretary on environmental studies where oil and gas drilling is planned in offshore areas throughout the nation's coastline.
"I'm very excited about this appointment, because there is so much going on, and the focus is going to be Alaska," said Dunton, who has conducted numerous scientific studies in Alaska. "About $2.6 billion in (oil and gas) lease sales have taken place just in March this year. It's the biggest lease sale in the history of Alaska.
"I find this a very challenging appointment," Dunton said, "because we're going to have to make, I think, some very interesting decisions on what we should be focusing our scientific efforts on with respect to oil and gas exploration as well as climate change."
Kempthorne informed Dunton of his appointment to the U.S. Minerals Management Service's (MMS) Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Scientific Committee in a letter dated June 24. MMS is a bureau in the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The OCS Scientific Committee advises Kempthorne on "the feasibility, appropriateness and scientific value" of the MMS's OCS Environmental Studies Program, according to the letter.
The Environmental Studies Program (ESP) was created in 1973 to gather environmental, social and economic science information to help decision-making on the MMS's offshore oil and gas program. Those are decisions to be made in offshore areas that are open for drilling. On Monday, President Bush lifted a presidential ban on offshore oil drilling in certain other areas of the outer continental shelf. However, the Washington Post reported that the action had no effect in an immediate sense, because Congress has a 37-year-old prohibition on offshore drilling that remains in effect.
The ESP is designed to gather information to help assess and manage impacts on human, marine and coastal environments of the outer continental shelf, a region of relatively shallow waters that extends miles from the coastlines of the U.S.
Another function of the ESP is to predict impacts on marine life that might result from pollution associated with oil and gas production in the OCS. The ESP also monitors marine areas for changes in environmental quality and tries to determine causes.
The Alaskan coast is a hot spot for scrutiny by the OCS Scientific Committee. More than 30 studies currently are being done on the continental shelf off Alaska, Dunton said. The committee, which includes about a dozen scientists, will make recommendations for other studies where oil and gas drilling is planned, he said.
Dunton got his PhD at the University of Alaska in 1985. He has been with UTMSI for the past 22 years. For the past 31 years, he has made annual trips either to the Arctic or Antarctic regions of the world for research. In fact, he leaves today - Thursday, July 17, en route to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to conduct ecological studies in coastal lagoons.
Dunton's experience in Alaska played a large role in his appointment to the committee, said Robin Cacy, a public affairs officer with the MMS in Anchorage, Alaska.
"He's got a really good long-term knowledge of the Arctic," said Cacy, who added that the committee is "a very important component of (MMS) public outreach."
In 2007, summer ice loss in the Arctic was 40 percent greater than the 20-year average, a record low, Dunton said.
"The energy needs of this country are obviously substantial, and there is enormous pressure to develop oil reserves on the continental shelf; and, with the retreat of ice on the Alaskan continental shelf, it opens up huge areas that before were inaccessible," Dunton said. "Now those areas are accessible for oil and gas exploration. So, this is a very interesting period to be involved in this type of program."
Dunton's term on the committee will be three years. Being on the committee means he will spend a lot of time reading reports and must attend at least one meeting each year to review information coming from scientists conducting studies in marine areas throughout the U.S.