(AFP) – Jul 22, 2010
WASHINGTON — A US judge ordered a halt to offshore oil and gas drilling off the north coast of Alaska for a new environmental review.
Federal Judge Ralph Beistline in Anchorage, Alaska, said in a 21-page decision Wednesday that the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service failed to conduct adequate analysis before granting the drilling rights in the Chukchi Sea in 2008.
Offshore drilling has become a major issue in the United States since the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.
In this case, the judge sent the case back to the agency for review, saying the record reflected "missing information about the Chukchi Sea environment and the potential effects of the lease sale on wildlife and subsistence."
An environmental coalition represented by the group Earthjustice said the court decision reflected a weak environmental review.
"We have long argued that more science, more data and more research is needed in the sensitive waters of the Arctic Ocean before oil and gas lease sales or drilling are allowed to occur," said Erik Grafe, an attorney at Earthjustice.
"Federal agencies have a basic obligation under the law to fully assess missing information about potential impacts of their actions, and to obtain it if they can, before they act. In this case, the court decided that the Minerals Management Service did not meet its obligation before it issued oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea."
The suit filed on behalf of indigenous groups and communities and environmental groups contended that the leases awarded in 2008 lacked a proper environmental review.
The groups argued that the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico highlighted the dangers of poor environmental reviews.
"The court's decision shines a spotlight on the need for adequate scientific data before opening sensitive areas of the ocean to risky oil and gas activities," Earthjustice said.
"The danger of committing our ocean to risky oil and gas activities without full environmental review is highlighted by the ongoing tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico."
Earthjustice represented the Native Village of Point Hope, Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and others in the case.
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