Vol. 27, No.3 Week of January 16, 2022
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Center for Biological Diversity threatens Peregrine well lawsuit

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Alan Bailey

for Petroleum News

On Dec. 22 the Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter to the Department of the Interior, with a 60-day notice of intent to sue the agency over the approval of 88 Energy Ltd.’s planned exploratory drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Oil explorer 88 Energy plans to drill the Merlin 2 exploration well this winter in its Peregrine acreage in the southeastern sector of the NPR-A, immediately north of the undeveloped Umiat oil field.

Potential polar bear impacts

The Center for Biological Diversity claims that, in approving the drilling project, the Bureau of Land Management has failed to ensure that the project is unlikely “to jeopardize the continued existence of the polar bear or adversely modify its critical habitat.” The environmental organization also claims that BLM has violated the Endangered Species Act by not requiring incidental take authorizations for any disturbance to the bears. The polar bear is listed as threatened under the terms of the ESA, primarily because of the continuing shrinkage of the bears’ sea ice habitat as a consequence of climate change.

In addition to the climate change impacts of oil and gas production and use, noise pollution from oil and gas activities can disturb bears, causing their displacement across large distances, with impacts to denning bears being particularly detrimental, the environmental organization wrote.

The Peregrine exploration program, a five-year, nearly year-round oil and gas exploration program, will increase harmful impacts on the polar bears, given the planned extensive activity concentrated in the southeastern part of NPR-A, along the Colville River, in an area currently free from oil and gas activity, the environmental organization wrote. Planned winter activities include the construction and deconstruction of snow and ice roads; the mobilization of personnel and equipment to multiple camps; drilling operations; the construction and use of multiple airstrips; and nearly constant aircraft traffic, the organization wrote.

The environmental organization said that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has “repeatedly acknowledged” that these type of oil and gas activity “take” polar bears under the terms of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. A “take” involves the non-lethal disturbance of an animal - incidental take regulations involve government agency approval of measures to be taken to minimize the unintended take of animals.

NPR-A integrated activity plan

The environmental organization acknowledged that BLM’s current approved integrated activity plan for the NPR-A recognizes the potential harm to polar bears and their denning habitat. But the biological opinion for the IAP is legally flawed, because it does not use the best available science to assess potential impacts to the bears, and “does not ensure against the likely jeopardy of polar bears from oil and gas activity in the NPR-A,” the environmental organization wrote.

Moreover, the biological opinion for the IAP took a broad framework view of potential activities within the NPR-A - there has been no consultation on the potential impacts on polar bears of the specific activities envisaged in 88 Energy’s Peregrine program, the environmental organization claims. The biological opinion cannot, therefore, suffice for BLM’s oversight of the Peregrine program, the organization claims.

Merlin wells

The Merlin 1 well, which 88 Energy drilled to a depth of 5,267 feet last winter, demonstrated the presence of oil in multiple stacked sands in the Nanushuk formation, the formation involved in major oil discoveries on the North Slope in recent years. This winter the company plans to use the Arctic Fox drilling rig to drill the Merlin 2 well to a depth of 8,000 feet, as an appraisal well to the southeast of Merlin 1. The new well is targeting an estimated 652 million barrels of oil.


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