September 09, 2010 --- Vol. 16, No. 83September 2010

State files suit to overturn Alaska OCS drilling ban

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell today announced that the State of Alaska has filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, to overturn a federal moratorium on offshore drilling in the Alaska outer continental shelf.

“Development of Alaska’s OCS resources is of critical importance to Alaska’s future and the economic and security interests of the United States,” Parnell said. “We are taking this action to ensure that the federal government abides by applicable federal law, including its legal responsibility to make the OCS available for expeditious and orderly development.”

Parnell said that the state has not taken legal action over the moratorium previously because of confusion about whether Interior had in fact imposed a moratorium on the Alaska outer continental shelf, even although the agency had refused to allow Shell to proceed with some planned drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in 2010. However, in a Sept. 3 press conference, at the end of a 48-hour Alaska tour by the secretary, Salazar had clearly stated that he had imposed a drilling moratorium on the Arctic OCS — that statement gave the state reason to file its lawsuit, Parnell said.

The basis of the state’s legal claim is that Interior has illegally imposed an Alaska OCS moratorium by failing to consult with state officials over the drilling ban, by neglecting to consider the economic impacts of such a ban and by failing to issue a written decision explaining the basis for the moratorium. Parnell said that he had requested a meeting with Salazar to discuss the Arctic OCS drilling situation during the secretary’s recent Alaska tour, but that Salazar had declined the meeting invitation.

State Attorney General Dan Sullivan said that the Department of the Interior had violated the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act by not consulting with the state or notifying the state governor when imposing the moratorium. Interior was also in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act, Sullivan said.

“The APA requires agency actions like a moratorium to be supported by a record, a reasoned written opinion that has findings, that has analysis and that has a rational connection between the facts that the agency found and the actions and decisions the agency is making,” Sullivan said. “The Department of the Interior didn't do this at all with regard to the Arctic moratorium.”

Parnell said that a major objective of filing the lawsuit now was to allow exploration drilling to proceed in the outer continental shelf of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in 2011 — Interior has not specified any time limit for its Arctic drilling moratorium, he said.

See an account of Ken Salazar’s Sept. 3 press conference in the Sept. 12 issue of Petroleum News, available to subscribers online at noon Friday, Sept. 10, and a full story about the state’s lawsuit in the Sept. 19 issue available to subscribers online at noon Friday, Sept. 17 at

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