Industry ponders effects of new Polar bear status

Oil and gas companies, despite official assurances, are considering the potential adverse effects on their industry after the US government listed polar bears as a threatened species.

Eric Watkins
Senior Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, May 20 -- Oil and gas companies, despite official assurances, are considering the potential adverse effects on their industry after the US government listed polar bears as a threatened species.

US Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, following judicial prodding earlier this month, added polar bears to the list of threatened animals under the country's Endangered Species Act because their sea ice habitat is rapidly melting (OGJ Online, May 19, 2008).

While Kempthorne listed the bears under the ESA, the Department of the Interior (DOI) attempted to reassure the oil and gas industry that exploration and production in the bears' habitat could still proceed.

"This rule, effective immediately, will ensure the protection of the bear while allowing us to continue to develop our natural resources in the arctic region in an environmentally sound way," the DOI said.

DOI outlined a set of administrative actions and limits to how it planned to protect the polar bear with its new status so that the designation would not result in wide-ranging adverse impacts on economic activities such as oil and gas exploration.

Alaska already produces some 15% of the country's oil, and more prospecting has been eyed in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, home to the largest populations of polar bears in US waters.

Marilyn Crockett, executive director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, expressed concern that the decision will start prolonged court battles over future exploration and production of oil.

"We don't see any targets painted on projects yet, but it's likely we'll end up in court," Crockett said. "In the end, significant energy policies will be decided by the courts."

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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