A panel of three judges in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today issued an opinion requiring that the U.S. Department of the Interior withdraw and reconsider the U.S. Minerals Management Service 2007 to 2012 oil and gas lease sale program for the outer continental shelf. That lease sale program includes the February 2008 Chukchi Sea lease sale that attracted $2.6 billion in high bonus bids. Shell and ConocoPhillips have conducted seismic surveys and have been doing site surveys, in preparation for drilling in leases that they purchased in the lease sale.
In 2007 the Native Village of Point Hope, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Alaska Wilderness League and Pacific Environment appealed the DOI approval of the five-year lease sale program, on the grounds that the program did not take into account the impact of oil and gas leasing on climate change; was approved without adequate baseline biological research and without adequate Endangered Species Act consultation; and was irrational in relying on an insufficient environmental sensitivity assessment by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
The court upheld the claim that the environmental sensitivity rankings in the lease sale program are irrational, and thus required that the lease sale program be vacated for reconsideration. However, the court dismissed the other grounds for appeal.
The court decision does not affect outer continental shelf leases in the Beaufort Sea — MMS issued those leases as part of an earlier five-year lease sale program.
See full story in April 26 issue, available online at noon, Friday April 24 at www.PetroleumNews.com