Environmental group threatens to sue Alaskan oil reserve drilling stop, citing risk to polar bears

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A national environmental group is considering suing the Home Office to halt oil exploration work in a wide swath of northwestern Alaska designated by Congress for activity, citing risks to polar bears.

Lawyers for the Center for Biological Diversity on December 22 filed a notice of intent to prosecute officials from the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management over alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act in Approvals from 88 Energy’s exploration drilling agencies in the southern portion of the 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

“The continued exploration and development of oil and gas is fundamentally incompatible with the survival and recovery of the polar bear,” the advisory said.

The 60-day notice, which is required before federal agencies can be prosecuted for many regulatory laws, says the approvals for 88 Energy’s drilling program do not include bycatch approvals for polar bears. The notice says the best way to correct the violations is to immediately order the company to stop work and not approve its application for a drilling license for this winter. 88 Energy applied to BLM on December 4 for the permit to drill its Merlin-2 well.

Lawyers for the environmental group further say that extensive scientific studies predict that most polar bear populations around the world, including the southern Beaufort Sea population at the center of the trial, will become extinct within the next century by due to loss of sea ice without aggressive actions. to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the center, 88 Energy’s planned five-year exploration drilling program is likely to impact the region’s bears through noise and field development associated with long-term industrial activities, which include building over 80 miles of ice roads each. winter. Changes to the route of the ice road planned this winter compared to last winter also add to the “amount of roads being built in potential polar bear calving habitat,” the advisory said.

The Center for Biological Diversity intends to sue BLM if the agency does not correct the ESA’s problems, or at the very least to consult with officials of the US Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that appropriate methods of d Polar bear impact mitigation is being implemented in the work and proper bycatch permissions are in place, according to the 10-page notice.

88 Energy has been exploring the southern edges of the North Slope for years, previously on Crown land. The small Australian-based operator has one of the largest leasehold operations on the slope; 88 Energy holds rights to over 440,000 net acres through its state and federal leases.

The company’s Merlin project in NPR-A is near the former Umiat oil prospect in the southeast corner of the Federal Reserve. The Umiat prospect, although long known to contain oil, has not been developed, largely due to its remote location far west of the Dalton Road.

88 Energy targets the popular Nanushuk Sand Oil Formations approximately 50 miles south of ConocoPhillips’ large Willow Oil Project, largely based on findings from the Nanushuk Formation. North Slope geologists said Nanushuk’s oil fields extend mainly from north to south.

88 Energy plans to drill the Merlin-2 appraisal well from February. It is slated slightly east of the Merlin-1 well drilled earlier this year, which the company says hit a significant amount of oil.

88 Energy executives and a press representative from BLM headquarters did not answer questions in time for this story.

Also in NPR-A, early fieldwork on the $ 8 billion Willow Project was suspended by injunction from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal last February after a group of local and Indigenous environmental groups from Alaska has also sued BLM, in part for the agency’s polar bear. the corresponding ESA authorizations for the works. An Alaska U.S. District Court judge then formally struck down portions of Willow’s environmental review over the summer, prompting the company and agency to begin work on revised plans and permits. .

Elwood Brehmer can be contacted at [email protected].


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