February 27, 2007 --- Vol. 13, No. 17February 2007

North Slope Borough, AEWC sue to stop MMS Beaufort sale

The North Slope Borough and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission filed a lawsuit Feb. 26 to stop federal oil and gas lease sale 202 for the Beaufort Sea, which was scheduled for April 18.

In a Feb. 27 press release from the borough’s public affairs office, the borough said it and AEWC have previously questioned the “adequacy of scientific data and some of the economic assumptions” used to justify the sale.

“I really don’t want to go to court over this,” said North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta, “but there are way too many unanswered questions about the impacts of offshore activity on the bowhead whale migration and on our subsistence activities. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I just let this lease sale go.”

Itta met with U.S. Minerals Management Service officials and with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in Washington, D.C., just before filing the lawsuit in hopes of delaying the sale and avoiding legal action, the borough said.

Gary Strasburg, MMS’ media team lead in Washington, D.C., told Petroleum News Feb. 27 that the agency had “no statement at this time” about the lawsuit.

Lease sale 202 is the last of three sales in MMS’ current five-year offshore plan, which ends in June 2007. The 2007-2012 five-year plan includes five sales in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska.

The borough has argued that the 2003 Environmental Impact Statement justifying lease sales in the five-year plan is fundamentally flawed. It said industry has failed to demonstrate any proven method of oil spill cleanup in broken ice conditions and that the amount of estimated exploration activity following the sale is likely understated because the EIS uses outdated oil price estimates.

Itta said North Slope whalers and elders are increasingly worried about the stepped-up pace of exploration in recent years.

“People feel like it’s just too much, too soon, too fast,” he said. “We’re seeing it onshore with leasing in sensitive areas of NPR-A, and we’re seeing it offshore, which is even more sensitive because of the whale migration. MMS’s own numbers indicate as much as a 29 percent chance of a large spill from development related to the current five-year plan, and if they used more accurate numbers, it could be considerably higher. I’m kind of surprised that the government is willing to put our way of life at such high risk.”

Editor’s note: See full story in the March 4 edition of Petroleum News which will be available online on Friday noon, March 2.

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