Kempthorne says polar bear is threatened, but not endangered, species

The polar bear will be listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act, US Interior Secretary Dirk A. Kempthorne announced.

He said that his decision follows US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale A. Hall's recommendation and is based on the best available science which shows that loss of sea ice, and not oil and gas development or native populations' subsistence activities, threatens and will likely continue to threaten polar bear habitat

"Because polar bears are vulnerable to this loss of habitat, they are, in my judgment, likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future – in this case, 45 years," the secretary said during a press conference which included Hall and US Geological Survey Director Mark Myers.

He noted that polar bears already are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which has provisions that are more stringent than those in the ESA. "The oil and gas industry has been operating in the Arctic for decades in compliance with these stricter provisions. The Fish and Wildlife Service says that no polar bears have been killed due to encounters with oil and gas operations," he said.

He also said that listing the polar bear as threatened should not open the door to using the ESA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, power plants and other sources. "That would be wholly inappropriate. The ESA is not the right tool to set US climate policy," he maintained.

Alaskan officials concerned

The announcement produced expressions of concern from Alaskan officials. US Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Ak.) said that he was disappointed and disturbed since scientists have observed there now are three times as many polar bears in the Arctic as there were in the 1970s. "Never before has a species been listed as endangered or threatened while occupying its entire geographic range," he said.

He said that DOI's action opens the door for many other Arctic species to be listed, which would hamper Alaska's ability to tap its natural resources. "Reinterpreting the ESA in this way is an unequivocal victory for extreme environmentalists who want to block all development in our state," he declared.

Canada, which has the world's largest polar bear population, has chosen not to list the animal as threatened or endangered but as a species of "special concern," according to US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.). She suggested that FWS and DOI erred in their decision because it is too soon to determine the impacts of the loss of sea ice on the present polar bear population.

"I am concerned that a threatened listing could have serious ramifications for Alaska and the development of all of our natural resources. I certainly don't believe a threatened listing should affect the construction of an Alaskan natural gas pipeline, or of any other oil and gas projects, since there is zero evidence that any such project has harmed bear populations in the least. Clearly we want to promote the use of clean-burning natural gas to reduce carbon emissions," Murkowski said.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said that while the state was disappointed with the decision, it will assist FWS to ensure that polar bear populations remain viable for decades to come. She also said that she hopes federal actions do not threaten the North Slope's oil and gas industry, which she described as viable, productive and environmentally responsible.

Congressional reactions

Kempthorne's decision displeased leaders of the US Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, but for different reasons. Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said that while the listing was welcome news and long overdue, she was deeply concerned that the administration's plan will deny the polar bear some key protections under the ESA.

"The plight of the polar bear is a stark reminder that the planet is already experiencing the ravages of global warming. Today's announcement underscores how important it is for the Senate to pass national legislation to cut global warming pollution and avert the dangerous effects of climate change," she said.

James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), the committee's ranking minority, said that the decision apparently was based more on politics than science. He said that FWS estimates that there now are 20,000-25,000 polar bears, up substantially from levels of 5,000-10,000 in the 1950s and 1960s. "Credit should be given to protection already provided the polar bear by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the several international conservation treaties including the 1973 Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and the US-Russia Polar Bear Conservation and Management Act of 2006, as well as conservation education and outreach agreements with native peoples," he suggested.

"The regulatory tools of the ESA function best when at-risk species are faced with local, tangible threats. Greenhouse gas emissions are not local. The implications of today's decision, therefore, will undoubtedly lead to a drastic increase in litigation and eager lawyers ready to use this listing to do exactly what they have intended to do all along: shut down energy production," Inhofe warned.

US Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, said that the Bush administration finally acknowledged that the polar bear needs to be listed under the ESA after years of delay. "But the administration also has announced a rule aimed at allowing oil and gas drilling in the Arctic to continue unchecked even in the face of the polar bear's threatened extinction. Essentially, the administration is giving a gift to Big Oil and short shrift to the polar bear," he indicated.

Kempthorne's directives

Markey was referring to several specific actions which Kempthorne also announced that are designed to assure that the ESA is not used to try and regulate global climate change. First, said the secretary, he ordered FWS to propose a 4(d) rule stating that an activity is permissible under the ESA if it is permissible under the Marine Mammal Protection Act's stricter standards.

Second, he told Hall to direct his staff that the best scientific information available cannot make a casual connection between harm to species or their habitats and greenhouse gas emissions from a specific facility, resource development project or government action. He also said that DOI will issue a solicitor's opinion clarifying these points.

"Fourth, the ESA regulatory language needs to be clarified. We will propose common sense modifications to the existing regulations to provide greater certainty that this listing will not set backdoor climate policy outside our normal system of political accountability," the secretary said.

He said that when he was in the US Senate, he worked with Sens. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the late John H. Chafee (R-R.I.) to reform the ESA. "I lived with the consequences of ESA decisions as governor of Idaho. As [Interior] secretary, I have now experienced the reality that the current ESA is among the most inflexible laws Congress has passed. It prevents me, as secretary, from taking into account economic conditions and adverse consequences in making listing decisions," Kempthorne said.

He said that he met last week with his Canadian counterpart, Environment Minister John Baird, and that the two officials signed a memorandum of understanding to conserve and manage the two countries' polar bear populations. DOI also will continue to monitor polar bear populations and trends, study polar bear feeding ecology and work with local and borough governments in Alaska to manager polar bear populations, he said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

Related Articles

Deloitte studies oil supply growth for 2015-16

02/04/2015 A Deloitte MarketPoint analysis suggested large-field projects, each producing more than 25,000 b/d, could bring on 1.835 million b/d in oil supply...

Inpex starts development drilling at Ichthys field

02/04/2015

Inpex Corp. has started development drilling in Ichthys gas-condensate field in the Browse basin, about 200 km offshore Western Australia.

BG’s 2015 budget ‘significantly lower than 2014’

02/03/2015 BG Group plans capital expenditures on a cash basis of $6-7 billion in 2015, a range it says is “significantly lower than 2014” due to “a lower oil...

BP trims capital budget by $4-6 billion

02/03/2015 BP PLC plans an organic capital expenditure of $20 billion in 2015, down from the previous guidance $24-26 billion. Total organic capital expenditu...

IHS sees second-half end of US output surge

02/03/2015

Expectations are moderating about growth of oil production in the US this year.

Gazprom Neft starts shale oil production in western Siberian field

02/03/2015 JSC Gazprom Neft reported start of shale oil production from the Bazhenov formation during tests of two wells in southern Priobskoye field in centr...

Anadarko reports 2014 loss, remains upbeat about Wattenberg

02/03/2015 Anadarko Petroleum Corp. announced a 2014 net loss of $1.75 billion, or $3.47/share diluted, including a net loss of $4.05 billion associated with ...

CNOOC cuts capital budget, starts production from Jinzhou 9-3

02/03/2015 CNOOC Ltd. is slashing its capital budget for 2015 by 26-35% to $11.25-12.86 billion compared with last year’s budget. Capital expenditures for exp...

MARKET WATCH: NYMEX crude oil stays positive on lower rig count

02/03/2015 Oil prices on the New York and London markets closed higher Feb. 2 on positive momentum generated by a falling US rig count, suggesting cuts in pro...
White Papers

Pipeline Integrity: Best Practices to Prevent, Detect, and Mitigate Commodity Releases

Commodity releases can have catastrophic consequences, so ensuring pipeline integrity is crucial for p...
Sponsored by

AVEVA’s Digital Asset Approach - Defining a new era of collaboration in capital projects and asset operations

There is constant, intensive change in the capital projects and asset life cycle management. New chall...
Sponsored by

Transforming the Oil and Gas Industry with EPPM

With budgets in the billions, timelines spanning years, and life cycles extending over decades, oil an...
Sponsored by

Asset Decommissioning in Oil & Gas: Transforming Business

Asset intensive organizations like Oil and Gas have their own industry specific challenges when it com...
Sponsored by

Squeezing the Green: How to Cut Petroleum Downstream Costs and Optimize Processing Efficiencies with Enterprise Project Portfolio Management Solutions

As the downstream petroleum industry grapples with change in every sector and at every level, includin...
Sponsored by

7 Steps to Improve Oil & Gas Asset Decommissioning

Global competition and volatile markets are creating a challenging business climate for project based ...
Sponsored by

The impact of aging infrastructure in process manufacturing industries

Process manufacturing companies in the oil and gas, utilities, chemicals and natural resource industri...
Sponsored by

What is System Level Thermo-Fluid Analysis?

This paper will explain some of the fundamentals of System Level Thermo-Fluid Analysis and demonstrate...
Available Webcasts


Cognitive Solutions for Upstream Oil and Gas

When Fri, Jun 12, 2015

The oil & gas sector is under pressure on all sides. Reserves are limited and it’s becoming increasingly expensive to find and extract new resources. Margins are already being squeezed in an industry where one wrong decision can cost millions. Analyzing data used in energy exploration can save millions of dollars as we develop ways to predict where and how to extract the world’s massive energy reserves.

This session with IBM Subject Matter Experts will discuss how IBM Cognitive Solutions contribute to the oil and gas industry using predictive analytics and cognitive computing, as well as real time streaming for exploration and drilling.

register:WEBCAST


The Alternative Fuel Movement: Four Need-to-Know Excise Tax Complexities

When Thu, Jun 4, 2015

Discussion on how to approach, and ultimately embrace, the alternative fuel market by pulling back the veil on excise tax complexities. Taxes may be an aggravating part of daily operations, but their accuracy is crucial in your path towards business success.

register:WEBCAST



On Demand

Prevention, Detection and Mitigation of pipeline leaks in the modern world

Thu, Apr 30, 2015

Preventing, detecting and mitigating leaks or commodity releases from pipelines are a top priority for all pipeline companies. This presentation will look at various aspects related to preventing, detecting and mitigating pipeline commodity releases from a generic and conceptual point of view, while at the same time look at the variety of offerings available from Schneider Electric to meet some of the requirements associated with pipeline integrity management. 

register:WEBCAST


Global LNG: Adjusting to New Realities

Fri, Mar 20, 2015

Oil & Gas Journal’s March 20, 2015, webcast will look at how global LNG trade will be affected over the next 12-24 months by falling crude oil prices and changing patterns and pressures of demand. Will US LNG production play a role in balancing markets? Or will it add to a growing global oversupply of LNG for markets remote from easier natural gas supply? Will new buyers with marginal credit, smaller requirements, or great need for flexibility begin to look attractive to suppliers? How will high-cost, mega-projects in Australia respond to new construction cost trends?

register:WEBCAST


Emerson Micro Motion Videos

Careers at TOTAL

Careers at TOTAL - Videos

More than 600 job openings are now online, watch videos and learn more!

 

Click Here to Watch

Other Oil & Gas Industry Jobs

Search More Job Listings >>
Stay Connected