U.S. Sued by Alaska Over Improper Ban on Offshore Oil Drilling

U.S. Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar was sued by the state of Alaska over claims he improperly banned drilling off the state’s coast after BP Plc’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The U.S. hasn’t issued drilling permits in the Arctic since the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf in April and Salazar announced at a press conference this month that he wouldn’t allow exploration plans to resume this year, according to the complaint filed yesterday by Alaska and its Republican governor, Sean Parnell.

The U.S. in May imposed a moratorium on deep-water drilling in the wake of the Gulf spill. Regulators including Salazar have improperly stopped drilling as well in the shallower waters off Alaska’s coast without issuing a formal ban, the state said.

“Defendants have not issued a final, appealable decision on a moratorium for the Alaska region,” the state said in the complaint filed in federal court in Anchorage. “Nor have defendants issued any findings, analysis, or explanation to support such a moratorium.”

The lawsuit claims that Salazar and the Interior Department didn’t consult the state or give it a chance to participate in the moratorium decision, as legally required. The state asked the fcourt to order the U.S. to end any moratorium on drilling in the Alaska region.

The state also sued the Interior Department, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and its director, Michael Bromwich.

‘No Moratorium’

“There is no moratorium in Alaska and therefore nothing to sue on,” Kendra Barkoff, an Interior Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail yesterday. “The moratorium is on deep-water drilling and there is no deep-water drilling in Alaska.”

U.S. regulators are “taking a cautious approach to offshore oil and gas development,” she said. “We need additional information about spill risks and spill response capabilities, which is why Secretary Salazar has delayed Shell’s request to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and canceled the remaining four lease sales in the Arctic.”

The case is State of Alaska v. Salazar, 3:10-cv-00205, U.S. District Court, District of Alaska (Anchorage).

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