Appeals court clarifies Alaska OCS decision

Alaska state officials and environmental organizations each claimed victory following a federal appeals court’s July 28 clarification that its earlier order vacating the current federal offshore oil and gas leasing program applies only to the Alaska portion of the plan.

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, July 31 – Alaska state officials and environmental organizations each claimed victory following a federal appeals court’s July 28 clarification that its earlier order vacating the current federal offshore oil and gas leasing program applies only to the Alaska portion of the plan.

A second clarification allows for continued data gathering for oil and gas development in the Chukchi Sea while the US Minerals Management Service conducts more comprehensive environmental impact studies there and in the Beaufort and Bering Seas, Alaska Att. Gen. Dan Sullivan said on July 30.

He said that the ruling followed one on July 14 by another federal court that refused to rescind dozens of Chukchi Sea oil and gas leases.

“We will vigorously defend Alaska’s interests in ensuring that oil and gas developments continue both in the state and in the federal outer continental shelf,” Sullivan said. “Recent federal court rulings, while not definitive, are encouraging.”

Environmental organizations portrayed the US District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia July 28 clarifications as a warning to the US Department of the Interior to rewrite the Alaska portions of the current federal Outer Continental Shelf leasing program or risk seeing the entire plan thrown out.

“The court has told industry and Interior that they will be watching to ensure that the environmental sensitivity to this massive leasing program is brought to light,” said David Dickson, Western Arctic and Oceans Program Director for the Alaska Wilderness League, on July 29. “Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has pledged to do just that. The court’s ruling yesterday holds Secretary Salazar to his word while rejecting attempts by Big Oil to get around the fact that the current data about how oil and gas development will impact the fragile Arctic ecosystem is sorely inadequate.”

US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.) urged Salazar to complete the new environmental analysis as soon as possible. “As I understand it, Interior started the environmental analysis almost immediately after the court’s initial ruling this spring, which halted the leasing plan,” Murkowski said. “Given that an analysis requires no new research or field work, I assume it can be completed relatively quickly and I urge the secretary to ensure that this task is completed in a timely manner so we can move forward on a path to energy security.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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