Conservationists Petition to Stop Arctic Drilling

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Conservation groups asked the Ninth Circuit to review the Trump administration’s approval of the first offshore oil drilling development in Arctic waters, which the group says violates federal laws and ignores warnings about climate change.

“There is no such thing as safe Arctic drilling,” Tim Donaghy of Greenpeace USA said in a statement. “The latest climate science is crystal clear that we can no longer allow the expansion of the oil industry into new regions if we want to limit global warming to safe levels.”

Anchorage-based Hilcorp Alaska received approval in October for its Liberty oil drilling project, which involves constructing a nine-acre artificial island in one of the most pristine natural reserves in North America.

Hilcorp also received approval to build a 5.6-mile underwater pipeline to transport oil.

The project is located near the largest wildlife refuge in the United States, encompassing about 30,000 square miles of undeveloped land.

Petitioners the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace USA, and Pacific Environment said Monday that the island, which will have a 24-acre footprint in about 20 feet of water, is at the heart of a critical polar bear habitat.

Oil drilling in the Arctic region could lead to oil spills affecting the sensitive Beaufort Sea and nearby Arctic communities, Donaghy said.

Friends of the Earth’s Marcie Keever said in a statement that President Donald Trump is “flouting the law” and endangering delicate coastlines by rushing through approval of the project.

According to the conservationists’ petition, approval of the project violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

“This project is just one in a series of giveaways to oil companies looking to enrich their CEOs and investors on America’s public lands and waters,” Keever said.

The group called the Trump administration reckless for approving the project, which they say could amplify negative effects of climate change around the world.

“Liberty is the bad step down a very dangerous path,” the Center’s Kristen Monsell said. “An oil spill in the Arctic would be impossible to clean up in a region already stressed by climate change.”

Concerns are also mounting about Hilcorp’s ability to safely execute the project.

An oil worker for the company died earlier this month in an accident on Alaska’s North Slope and one of the company’s underwater gas pipelines in Alaska’s Cook Inlet leaked for nearly four months last year.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has heavily fined Hilcorp, commenting in a May 2016 report that “disregard for regulatory compliance is endemic to Hilcorp’s approach to its Alaska operations.”

Meanwhile, the Liberty Energy Project website boasts a “30-year record of safely operating offshore in the Arctic” and says the project will bring jobs to the area and generate funds for students, Native communities, and more.

The petition names former Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service as respondents.

A spokesperson for the agencies did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

The Trump administration says it plans to offer another lease sale in the Beaufort Sea in 2019 as part of a plan to drastically expand offshore oil drilling in the Arctic and other U.S. oceans.

The administration has also said it will relax offshore drilling safety regulations adopted in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which spilled nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

A White House report this month found that the past five years have been the hottest on record and that the Arctic is heating up at twice the rate of the rest of the globe.  

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