Environmental Groups Appeal Arctic Drilling Suit Dismissal

More than a dozen environmental and Native American groups are appealing a U.S. judge’s February decision to uphold a 2008 drilling lease sale that opened for exploration the Chukchi Sea northwest of Alaska.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline in Alaska’s capital city, Juneau, upheld the sale in a Feb. 13 ruling, saying he deferred to the expertise of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which had said the sale was in the nation’s best interest.

The groups filed their notice of appeal at the Alaska court today. Their challenge would be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

“The Bush administration was wrong to open these fragile Arctic waters up to drilling without first having sufficient information about how those operations could impact the Arctic Ocean and the life it supports,” said Sierra Weaver, a lawyer with Defenders of Wildlife, one of the groups participating in the case, referring to President George W. Bush in a press statement today.

In their complaint filed in January 2008, the groups said the federal government’s decision to open 29.4 million acres on the continental shelf under the Chukchi Sea to oil and gas exploration violated the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act.

Oil producers ConocoPhillips Co. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s Shell Gulf of Mexico unit joined the case on the side of the federal government.

Each side last year asked Beistline for judgment in its favor.

Greenhouse Gases

The U.S., saying that the Ocean Energy Management bureau already had analyzed the environmental impact at the court’s behest, said that supplemental environmental impact statements had adequately addressed the impact of drilling on whales and other species as well as the generation of greenhouse gases.

“It is the court’s conclusion that BOEM has adequately considered and disclosed the environmental impact of development of Lease Sale 193,” Beistline said in his Feb. 13. ruling.

“America’s desire for oil and gas, if not satisfied from American sources, will be satisfied from elsewhere,” the judge said. “Hence the court agrees with BOEM’s conclusion that there would be no net effect (positive or negative) on climate change because of oil and gas development on Lease Sale 193.”

Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, said he couldn’t immediately comment on the groups’ appellate filing.

“Today’s appeal asks the court to require the Obama administration to comply with the law -- and common sense -- and look before it leaps into potentially catastrophic oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea,” said Erik Grafe, a lawyer for Earthjustice, the San Francisco-based organization representing the groups that sued.

The case is Native Village of Point Hope v. Salazar, 08-cv-0004, U.S. District Court, District of Alaska (Juneau).

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