Court clarification lets MMS lease sales outside Alaska proceed

A federal appeals court clarified its order vacating the current federal offshore oil and gas leasing program on July 28 by saying that the ruling applies only to the Alaska portion of the plan.

A federal appeals court clarified its order vacating the current federal offshore oil and gas leasing program on July 28 by saying that the ruling applies only to the Alaska portion of the plan.

The action clears the way for the US Minerals Management Service to proceed with lease sales on other areas of the Outer Continental Shelf. “We are moving forward with the planned Aug. 19 Gulf of Mexico lease sale,” US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on July 29.

He sought the clarification on May 11 after the US District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided on Apr. 17 that the Bush administration did not use sound science when it expanded leasing areas in the Beaufort, Bering, and Chukchi Seas for the 2007-12 OCS plan. It issued an order vacating the program and ordered a rewrite after more thorough studies had been conducted.

Through the US Department of Justice, Salazar asked the court to clarify that the order applied only to the Alaskan parts of the five-year plan, and that sales in other areas could proceed. The American Petroleum Institute also sought a similar clarification.

The new order stated that relief granted in the April 17 opinion applied only to Alaska, “specifically leasing in the Chukchi, Beaufort and Bering Seas.”

“I am pleased with the court’s decision. With respect to the Arctic Ocean and Alaska, we will continue to work expeditiously to address the environmental issues identified by the court in the existing 2007-2012 five-year plan,” Salazar said.

In a July 29 statement, API encouraged DOI “to move quickly to re-do the environmental sensitivity analysis and maintain all scheduled past and future leasing in Alaska so that exploration and production activity and future leases sales under the 2007-2012 plan can take place in that state.”

Contact Nick Snow atnicks@pennwell.com

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