Federal Court Halts Oil and Gas Activities Under Alaskan Sea Lease Sale
July 27, 2010
On July 21, Earthjustice, representing a broad coalition of groups, including Sierra Club, secured a big victory when a federal court ordered all activities under Lease Sale 193 in the Chukchi Sea to be halted, pending further environmental review. The court determined that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement (formerly the Minerals Management Service) failed to meet its obligation under the law to analyze the importance of missing basic scientific information about the Chukchi Sea and verify whether it could obtain the information prior to offering leases. The court also faulted the agency for failing to analyze the potential impacts of possible natural gas development from the lease sale.
The environmental groups originally challenged the lease sale in federal court in 2008, after the agency approved oil and gas drilling leases without adequately analyzing the impacts of the sale on the Chukchi Sea. This decision shines a spotlight on the need for adequate scientific data before opening sensitive areas of the ocean to risky oil and gas activities. The danger of committing our ocean to risky oil and gas activities without full environmental review is highlighted by the ongoing tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Chukchi Sea is home to sensitive populations of endangered polar bears and bowhead whales, among many other species of fish and wildlife. Despite the significance and sensitivity of the Arctic Ocean, there is a profound lack of basic knowledge about the sea and the wildlife that inhabits it. Data gaps exist on whale migrations and feeding habits; there is no reliable population estimate for species of walrus or seals, and no population estimates for polar bears are available for the Chukchi Sea. Global climate change is also wreaking havoc on sea ice, upon which many species depend for survival. An oil spill on any scale in this sensitive and often harsh climate would have devastating impacts; no technology exists to clean up an oil spill in these Arctic waters.
Details and Documents:
Federal Court Halts Oil and Gas Activities Under Chukchi Sea Lease Sale
July 21, 2010, Earthjustice et al. Press Release
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