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ABC News: Offshore Drilling – 9th Circuit Court Ruling

Story Updated: Sep 14, 2007 at 12:44 AM AKDT
 
ALASKA/ NATIONAL – The 9th Circuit Court has backed up a ruling preventing Shell Oil from drilling in the Beaufort Sea. The original ruling came down in August and was appealed.

The Court has stopped activity under the three year exploration plan until it can resolve the challenges to the plan and has put the case on a fast track.

According to a press release regarding the issue, a coalition of Native Alaskans and conservation groups had sued to halt the drilling on concerns that such large-scale industrial activities would threaten endangered Bowhead whales, polar bears and other marine animals in coastal waters just off the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The groups challenged the permit issued by the federal Mineral Management Service on grounds that the agency failed to conduct proper assessment of environmental impacts.

The August 14th court order that Shell had asked the Court to reconsider concludes that groups challenging the exploration plan approval “have shown a probability of success on the merits” and “the balance of hardships tips sharply in their favor.”

“The costs of drilling in the Beaufort Sea will lay with the local communities of the North Slope. The negative effects to our subsistence way of life will be seen on a daily basis – negative impacts to our quality of life and human and ecological health; therefore, today’s decision is heartening” commented Rosemary Ahtuangaruk, an Inupiat resident of Nuiqsut, a community near the proposed Shell lease area, and member of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (Redoil).

“The agency’s own scientists have warned that this type of activity could threaten serious impacts to bowhead whale mothers with calves,” said Betsy Beardsley, Alaska Wilderness League.

Shell had been granted permission by the MMS to drill as many as four wells this year, some  just offshore from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an area kept off-limits to major mineral exploration despite continued efforts of the Bush administration to open it up to such activities.

The decision on Friday was based on the possible risks to wildlife. On Thursday Shell said if the ruling wasn’t reversed it would have to lay off contract workers and disband its offshore drilling fleet.

“The court’s ‘time out’ should send a message to the federal government that they can’t continue to rubber stamp risky drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean,” said Whit Sheard, Alaska Program Director for Pacific Environment. “This is yet another reason to revisit MMS’ reckless decision to sell off over 70 million acres of the Arctic Ocean to oil companies.”

Groups challenging the permit are the Alaska Wilderness League, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pacific Environment, Center for Biological Diversity, and Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (Redoil) and are represented by Earthjustice. The North Slope Borough and Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission have also challenged the drilling plan.

Story Created: Sep 14, 2007 at 12:34 AM AKDT

http://www.aksuperstation.com/news/local/9770762.html

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