Interior Dept. to Decide Alaska Offshore Drilling


". . .judges concluded the Bush administration environmental review was 'irrational.'"

The Interior Department is ready to announce its analysis and review of defects in a program covering lease sales off much of Alaska's coastline, including Arctic waters, according to a legal filing Tuesday.

Just one lease sale has been conducted under the 2007–2012 five-year Outer Continental Shelf lease program—the February 2008 Chukchi Sea sale that earned the federal government $2.7 billion. Additional sales were scheduled for the Chukchi and three other Alaska areas.

A federal appeals court ruled nearly a year ago that the Bush-era Interior Department did not properly study the environmental impact of expanding oil and gas drilling off the Alaska coast before authorizing the program.

Attorney Peter Van Tuyn, representing the Native Village of Point Hope and two environmental groups, said Tuesday that judges concluded the Bush administration environmental review was "irrational." The department equated the sensitivity of water far offshore with coastal areas, he said.

"That was a significant error regarding Arctic waters, where the environment and wildlife are driven by the ice edge that moves north and south with the seasons," Van Tuyn said.

Sea ice is a key element in the Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea and Bering Sea, including Bristol Bay, home to the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery.

All three seas are on the migratory paths of endangered whales. The Beaufort and Chukchi seas are home to Alaska's two polar bear populations. Indigenous communities rely on marine life for subsistence hunting and fishing, and some fear industrial activity—from ship traffic to noise to spills—will permanently alter their homes.

Elected officials in Alaska, which takes in about 90% of its general fund revenue from the oil industry, continue to push for lease sales.

Gov. Sean Parnell has aggressively challenged endangered species listings that could delay drilling.

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