(CN) - Oil and gas drilling is not responsible for declining polar bear numbers in the Beaufort Sea along the northern coast of Alaska, the 9th Circuit ruled, saying the local energy industry is in compliance with federal environmental laws.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations that allow for drilling do not violate the National Environmental Policy Act or the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the court ruled, dismissing an appeal from the Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Environment.
The record shows that the oil and gas industry has had little impact on polar bears, the ruling states. The industry has not caused a polar bear death since 1993, and development and production activities are concentrated on the land, away from ice floes where polar bears live. The service has discovered only "short-term behavioral disturbances" on polar bear populations due to oil and gas activities, according to the opinion.
The Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the impact of oil and gas production on polar bear and walrus populations is "negligible," making environmentalists' claims of a link between industrial activities and polar bear health merely speculative, Judge Jerome Farris wrote.
"[T]he seriousness of industrial disturbance impacts is subject to legitimate scientific dispute," Farris wrote. While noise from gas production activities might cause a mother polar bear to abandon its den prematurely, there is also a chance that she could acclimate to the noise, Farris wrote.
The government has "reasonably" concluded that the threat of climate change is not due to regional oil and gas activities, the San Francisco-based appeals court ruled.
The panel said the plaintiffs only pointed out a general threat to polar bear populations from global warming.
"Such evidence does not demonstrate that non-lethal takes within a particular industry and during a particular period of time are likely to have a significant impact," Farris concluded.
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