Since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig in April, all eyes have been on BP and the growing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, but this uncomfortable exposure hasn’t stopped big oil and gas companies from continuing their destructive practices in other parts of the country.
Thanks to federal judge’s recent decision, however, they will be forced to suspend their plans for developing oil and gas wells on billions of dollars in leases in the Arctic waters of the Chukchi Sea.
Alaska’s northwest coast is a wild and beautiful place, home to many endangered species already struggling with climate change, but fossil fuel companies have been looking for a way to start drilling there for years.
MMS Fails Again
In what’s becoming a common criticism of the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline said that government agencies failed to analyze the environmental effect of natural gas development in light of industry interest and specific lease incentives for such development.
The MMS was renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement shortly after the onset of the BP oil spill crisis.
According to a report by the Associated Press, the agency analyzed only the development of the first field of 1 billion barrels of oil — despite the fact that this is a tiny fraction of the of development that would likely occur on the leases. It was also found that the MMS approved the drilling permits even though information related to potential environmental effects was “missing.”
Victory Only Temporary for Ocean Activists
In 2009, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar approved oil company plans to drill in the delicate Beaufort and Chukchi seas despite the fact that there is currently no technology available to clean up a catastrophic oil spill in the icy Alaskan waters.
Outraged, EarthJustice helped 15 Alaska Native and environmental groups file a lawsuit against the MMS for approving the plans without really knowing how they could impact the delicate ecosystems and endangered species that live in the state.
“So little is known about our Arctic Ocean,” Caroline Cannon, president of the Native Village of Point Hope, told the AP. “Scientifically, they have not enough data. That’s the message we brought at the table. And it’s so good that we’re on the same page, that the world has heard us, in a sense. That we’re visible and not on the corner of the back page. That we exist and we count.”
Unfortunately, the judge’s decision to halt Arctic drilling only temporarily suspends the leases while further environmental analysis is conducted. There is still a chance that this vital polar bear and whale habitat could be invaded by oil and gas companies.
SIGN THE PETITIONS!
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