A court decision jeopardizing oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska represents a triumph of environmental obstructionism—but not of management of the Outer Continental Shelf.
The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals found flaws in environmental documents prepared for OCS Sale 193 of February 2008.
The problem: The Minerals Management Service, forerunner of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, estimated total production from the leases at 1 billion bbl of oil.
Because the Chukchi mean recoverable resource had been estimated at 12 billion bbl, the MMS projection for total production was capricious and arbitrary, the court ruled.
This finding second-guesses guesswork. A resource estimate isn’t a production forecast, especially in an undrilled, high-cost area of the Arctic offshore. For such an area, resource assessment is an exercise in geologic probability, and lowballing the production outlook is prudent.
Fifteen environmental and native Alaskan groups challenging the lease sale argued otherwise, apparently on the basis that the MMS estimate understated potential environmental effects. A majority of their geologically challenged honors agreed.
The decision probably will delay work on leases held by several oil and gas companies.
Delay means tactical victory for environmental groups, which would have challenged any production forecast in the environmental documents. If MMS had leaned toward the high end of the resource assessment, the groups would have argued it arbitrarily and capriciously overstated economic potential. From Ninth Circuit judges, they probably would have won.
Activist groups don’t care about the adequacy of environmental impact statements. And their concern about local environmental hazards is secondary to a grander strategy: foreclosing the production and use of oil wherever possible.
A Greenpeace representative made this clear in a statement cheering the Ninth Circuit decision. Arctic Campaign Leader Gustavo Ampugnani said Chukchi drilling “locks us into a dangerous and dirty fossil fuel future.”
Federal requirements for environmental documentation should protect the environment, not the abilities of groups with extreme, indefensible agendas to block important work.
(This article appeared first online at www.ogj.com on Jan. 24, 2014).