The U.S. Department of Justice has asked
a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.
to clarify its April ruling that put offshore oil
and gas leasing and exploration in Alaska on
Clarification is being sought from the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of
Columbia that its ruling on offshore drilling
does not invalidate existing leases issued
under the 2007-2012 five-year program for
the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).
In urging federal government lawyers
to pursue clarification, Interior Secretary
Ken Salazar noted that the court’s action
in vacating the five-year program came two
years after leasing began.
The Interior Department’s interpretation
of the decision is that the problems the court
says it found with the Bush administration’s
scientific and environmental analysis can be
addressed going forward, rather than forcing
the department to invalidate leases already
granted and to develop an entirely new
Governor Sarah Palin said this could
mean good news for Alaska, which is facing
a freeze on the federal leasing program in the
Beaufort, Chukchi and Bering seas.
“The action suggests that Secretary
Salazar is attempting to eliminate confusion
and uncertainty in the oil and gas industry,
and this gives us hope,” said Palin.
Following the initial court ruling, Senators
Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich sent a
letter to Interior requesting clarification of
“The court’s overly broad decision puts
too many leases in jeopardy,” Begich said. “We need to get the leasing program back on
track to ensure Alaska projects move forward,
give clear expectations to our oil and gas
industry and continue meeting America’s
The April ruling on the 2007-2012
program puts billions of barrels of oil and
nearly $11 billion in leases from the Gulf of
Mexico to Alaska in limbo. That program
included the February 2008 Chukchi Sea
lease sale that attracted a record $2.6 billion
in high bonus bids. Other Alaska lease sales
under the program have not yet been held.
The decision does not affect leases in the
Beaufort Sea issued by Interior in an earlier five-year program.
The appeals court ordered a new
evaluation of the five-year program after
finding that Interior did not consider the“relative environmental sensitivity” of
different OCS areas. The department only
ranked the sensitivity of various shoreline
areas to oil spills. The court said this was
inadequate because the OCS extends far
beyond shoreline areas.
The court said Interior must conduct a
new comparative analysis of different OCS
areas using a broader lens, and then reassess
the timing and location of lease sales.
Opponents of drilling claimed the plan
violated federal laws by failing to consider
the effects of climate change on OCS regions
and how the plan would affect climate
change. Litigants claimed that Interior did
not do enough biological research in Alaska
waters and that it violated the Endangered
Species Act by failing to consult with the Fish
and Wildlife Service about potential harm
to polar bears and other species. The court
dismissed all of these claims, saying some
were not yet ripe for review while others
Governor Palin strongly objected to the
appeals court ruling, warning that even a
stepped-up effort toward energy conservation
will not avert the need for increased
production of conventional fuel sources
“Ironically, putting the brakes on domestic
energy production does not prevent global warming or threats to species, but actually
increases the problem by shifting resource
extraction to less environmentally-preferred
fuels and locations,” Palin said.
Senator Murkowski said she was “troubled
that the groups behind this litigation are
engaging in the too-familiar tactic of suing
on every possible issue, no matter the legal
Before the court’s ruling, Secretary Salazar
put on a slower track a draft 2010-2015
program prepared by the Bush administration.
Public comments on that draft program have
been extended to September 21.
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