Kempthorne says polar bear is threatened, not endangered

Nick Snow
Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, May 19 -- The polar bear will be listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), announced US Interior Secretary Dirk A. Kempthorne on May 14.

He said 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 likely will 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 no polar bears have been killed due to encounters with oil and gas operations," he said.

He also said listing the polar bear as threatened should not open the door to using the ESA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, power plants, or 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-Alas.) said he was disappointed and disturbed because 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 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-Alas.). 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 during 1950-60. "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 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 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.

"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 back-door 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-RI) 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 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

EIA: US oil output fell 50,000 b/d in May

07/07/2015 Total US crude oil production dropped 50,000 b/d in May compared with April and is expected to continue falling through early 2016 before growth re...

BLM approves ROW for Elko gas pipeline expansion project

07/07/2015 The US Bureau of Land Management’s Tuscarora, Nev., field office signed a decision record approving a right-of-way for Paiute Pipeline Co.’s (PPC) ...

Obama urged by IPAA president to lift ban on US crude exports

07/07/2015 Commending the administration for its actions allowing some condensate to be exported as a petroleum product, Independent Petroleum Association of ...

Cidade de Itaguai FPSO anchors in Lula field

07/07/2015 Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras) reported that the Cidade de Itaguai floating production, storage, and offloading vessel has arrived at the Irace...

Statoil lets Johan Sverdrup drilling contract to Baker Hughes

07/07/2015

Statoil ASA has let an integrating drilling contract valued at 1.5 billion kroner to Baker Hughes Norway for the Johan Sverdrup development.

AER shuts in 16 Murphy Oil sites in Peace River region for noncompliance

07/07/2015 Alberta Energy Regulator said it has shut in or partially shut in 16 sites operated by Murphy Oil Co. Ltd. in the Peace River region. The sites wer...

MARKET WATCH: NYMEX, Brent oil prices take dive on world oil oversupply concerns

07/07/2015 US light, sweet crude oil prices plummeted more than $4/bbl on the New York market July 6, marking a 5-month low, while Brent crude oil prices on t...

WAFWA: Aerial survey finds lesser prairie chicken population grew

07/06/2015 A recent range-wide aerial survey found the lesser prairie chicken population rose 25% from 2014 to 2015, the Western Association of Fish & Wil...

Production ramps up from Sunrise oil sands project

07/06/2015 Husky Energy Inc., Calgary, reported that 25 well pairs are now on production at its Sunrise oil sands project in northeastern Alberta. Steaming is...
White Papers

Solutions to Financial Distress Resulting from a Weak Oil and Gas Price Environment

The oil and gas industry is in the midst of a prolonged worldwide downturn in commodity prices. While ...
Sponsored by

2015 Global Engineering Information Management Solutions Competitive Strategy Innovation and Leadership Award

The Frost & Sullivan Best Practices Awards recognise companies in a variety of regional and global...
Sponsored by

Three Tips to Improve Safety in the Oil Field

Working oil fields will always be tough work with inherent risks. There’s no getting around that. Ther...
Sponsored by

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
Available Webcasts


The Resilient Oilfield in the Internet of Things World

When Tue, Sep 22, 2015

As we hear about the hype surrounding the Internet of Things, the oil and gas industry is questioning what is different than what is already being done. What is new?  Using sensors and connecting devices is nothing new to our mode of business and in many ways the industry exemplifies many principles of an industrial internet of things. How does the Internet of Things impact the oil and gas industry?

Prolific instrumentation and automation digitized the industry and has changed the approach to business models calling for a systems led approach.  Resilient Systems have the ability to adapt to changing circumstances while maintaining their central purpose.  A resilient system, such as Maximo, allows an asset intensive organization to leverage connected devices by merging real-time asset information with other critical asset information and using that information to create a more agile organization.  

Join this webcast, sponsored by IBM, to learn how about Internet of Things capabilities and resilient systems are impacting the landscape of the oil and gas industry.

register:WEBCAST



On Demand

Taking the Headache out of Fuel License and Exemption Certificates: How to Ensure Compliance

Tue, Aug 25, 2015

This webinar, brought to you by Avalara, will detail the challenges of tax document management, as well as recommend solutions for fuel suppliers. You will learn:

-    Why it’s critical to track business partner licenses and exemption documents
-    The four key business challenges of ensuring tax compliance through document management
-    Best practice business processes to minimize exposure to tax errors

register:WEBCAST


Driving Growth and Efficiency with Deep Insights into Operational Data

Wed, Aug 19, 2015

Capitalizing on today’s momentum in Oil & Gas requires operational excellence based on a clear view of what your business data is telling you. Which is why nearly half* of oil and gas companies have deployed SAP HANA or have it on their roadmap.

Join SAP and Red Hat to learn more about using data to drive process improvements and identify new opportunities with the SAP HANA platform running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. This webinar will also show how your choice of infrastructure impacts the performance of core business applications and your ability to achieve data-driven insights quickly and reliably.

*48% use SAP, http://go.sap.com/solution/industry/oil-gas.html

register:WEBCAST


OGJ's Midyear Forecast 2015

Fri, Jul 10, 2015

This webcast is to be presented by OGJ Editor Bob Tippee and Senior Economic Editor Conglin Xu.  They will summarize the Midyear Forecast projections in key categories, note important changes from January’s forecasts, and examine reasons for the adjustments.

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