Federal Government Trading Arctic for Oil and Gas - Oceana USA

Federal Government Trading Arctic for Oil and Gas

Alaska Natives, conservationists and scientists oppose planned oil and gas activities in the Chukchi Sea

Press Release Date: January 31, 2008

Location: Juneau, AK


Dustin Cranor, APR | email: dcranor@oceana.org | tel: 954.348.1314


Alaska Natives and conservationists filed a lawsuit today in federal court in Alaska challenging the federal government’s plan to open nearly 30 million acres of the Chukchi Sea to oil and gas activities.  The coalition alleges that, on February 6, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) will hold the first oil and gas lease sale in the Chukchi Sea in more than 15 years without a fair evaluation and public disclosure of the potential effects to the Arctic. 

“We were forced to file this lawsuit because the federal government continues to stick its head in the sand, ignoring the scope and speed with which climate change is happening and its effects on Arctic people and wildlife,” said Michael LeVine, Pacific Counsel and Senior Advisor for Oceana. “We all know that oil and water don’t mix, but for the Bush Administration, oil development and watered-down science do.”

With Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193 on the horizon, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility released a series of documents showing that MMS has suppressed conclusions from its own scientists about the effects of oil and gas activities in the Arctic.  These documents are the latest evidence of suppression of public information by the Bush administration and show that MMS was aware of potential dramatic impacts of its plan to sell oil and gas leases in the Chukchi and chose to suppress that information rather than allowing the public to decide for themselves.

“What’s happening with oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea is the opposite of science-scientists gather all available information and use a methodical and transparent process to reach a valid conclusion,” said Dr. Chris Krenz, Arctic Project Manager for Oceana.  “The administration started with the conclusion that it wanted to drill in the Chukchi, then asked for information, and when that information didn’t support their conclusion, they suppressed it.”

Currently, there are no leases owned in the Chukchi Sea, which is important habitat for polar bears, walrus, ice seals, endangered birds, and a host of other species.  Leasing is the first step in a process that can lead to drilling and other industrialization in the Chukchi.  With those changes come substantial risks, such as oil spills, to the resources in the Chukchi and the people who depend on them. 

“We have known that it is best not to overexploit or be reckless and take too much from the sea,” said Caleb Pungowiyi, who grew up on St. Lawrence Island near the Bering Straits and is currently Rural Liaison and Senior Advisor for Oceana. “Any missteps from oil and gas activities could have disastrous impacts to our way of life, and we cannot afford to take this kind of risk when it comes to the Chukchi Sea.”
Four months ago, the Arctic sea ice minimum shattered the previous record, which placed incredible stress on Chukchi Sea wildlife.  “The Arctic is under assault from climate change, adding reckless industrialization of the Arctic on top of that is too much, too fast and too soon,” added Dr. Krenz.

In addition to Oceana, the groups filing the lawsuit are the Native Village of Point Hope, City of Point Hope, Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Pacific Environment, Resisting Environmental Destruction On Indigenous Lands (“REDOIL”), Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society.  The groups are represented by Earthjustice.

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