Arctic Ocean oil drilling opponents win appeal in US

January 24, 2014

The U.S. government violated the law when it opened millions of acres of the Arctic Ocean to offshore oil drilling, a federal appeals court ruled on January 22, possibly delaying plans by companies such as Royal Dutch Shell to drill off the northwest coast of Alaska in the near future, Los Angeles Times has reported.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the Interior Department did not properly evaluate the impact of oil development in the Chukchi Sea when it sold more than $2.6 billion in development leases in the environmentally sensitive area in 2008.

A coalition of environmental advocacy groups and Alaska Native organizations sued the federal government, arguing that the U.S. had offered an estimated 30 million acres of oil leases for sale without sufficient scientific information or analysis of potential effects on the region.

The groups also said that when the federal government analyzed the sale, it underestimated how much development could occur if companies discovered oil, a failure that "runs the risk of understating the impacts and the risks of catastrophic spills," said Michael LeVine, Pacific senior counsel for Oceana, which is part of the coalition of plaintiffs.

On January 22, the appeals court sided with the groups that sued the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Interior Department over Lease Sale 193. Federal officials estimated it would produce only 1 billion barrels of oil.

"Plaintiffs contend that the 1-billion-barrel estimate was chosen arbitrarily, and that [the bureau] did not provide adequate explanation for its selection," the court said in its ruling. "We agree."

Shell, the biggest player in the region, has spent nearly $5 billion preparing to drill in the Arctic. The company suspended its drilling efforts in 2013 after a disastrous 2012 season, during which a drilling rig ran aground, among other mishaps.

Copyright:  Los Angeles Times, 2014