Alaska Natives, ecologists sue to block Chukchi Sea oil leasing

A coalition of Native Alaskans and environmental groups filed suit in federal court Jan. 31 to halt oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea, which lies above the Arctic Circle between Alaska and Russia. Thirty million acres of polar bear, walrus, and whale habitat in the Chukchi Sea are scheduled to be opened to oil and gas companies Feb. 6, when the US Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) will hear bids for drilling leases. The suit claims that MMS did not adequately weigh the impacts on wildlife and Native villages along Alaska's North Slope.

The village of Point Hope, the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, and the group Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL) represent the Native Alaskan plaintiffs in the case. The conservation groups include the Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Sierra Club, and the Wilderness Society.

"The MMS has admitted a substantial likelihood of oil spills in the Chukchi Sea," said Kristen Miller, legislative director for Alaska Wilderness League. "There is no proven method to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic's broken sea ice, or even to reliably clean up a spill in open water."

Randall Luthi, director of the Minerals Management Service, said, "Energy production can occur while maintaining strong polar bear protections." (Environment News Service, Feb. 1)

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