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Environmental group threatens to sue to stop drilling in Alaska’s petroleum reserve. They cite the risks to polar bears
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Environmental group threatens to sue to stop drilling in Alaska’s petroleum reserve. They cite the risks to polar bears

A national environmental group plans on sueting the Interior Department to stop oil exploration in northwest Alaska. The area was congressionally designated for the activity.

Dec. 22nd, attorneys for the Center for Biological Diversity filed a Notification of Intent to Sue Interior & Bureau of Land Management officials for alleged Endangered SpeciesAct violations in their approvals of 88 Energys drilling in the southern section of the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska.

The notice states that oil and gas exploration and development are fundamentally incompatible for polar bear survival and recovery.

The notice of 60 days is required before you can sue federal agencies over many regulating statutes. It states that authorizations for the 88 Energys drilling program do not include incidental take approvals to polar bears. According to the notice, the best way to correct the violations is to order the company to stop working and to not approve its drilling permit application this winter. 88 Energy applied Dec. 4, to BLM for the permit for its Merlin-2 well.

Additional arguments by the environmental group include the assertion that comprehensive scientific studies have shown that most of the world’s polar Bear populations, including the Southern Beaufort Sea one, will disappear in the next century because of a loss of sea-ice and not taking aggressive measures to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the center’s five-year exploration drilling program, 88 Energy is likely to have an adverse impact on bears in the area by noise and on the ground development associated with long-term industrial activities. This includes the construction of more than 80 miles each winter of ice roads. The notice states that the proposed ice road route for this winter has been modified compared to last year to increase the amount of road built in potential polar bear habitat.

The Center for Biological Diversity plans to sue BLM if it doesn’t fix the ESA problems or consult with the U.S. According to the 10-page notice, Fish and Wildlife Service officials must ensure that proper mitigation methods for polar bear impacts are used in the work and that appropriate incidental take authorizations have been in place.

88 Energy has been exploring southern edges of North Slope since years. Previously, the company was limited to state land. The small Australian operator holds one of the largest lease-holdings in the Slope. 88 Energy has rights to more 440,000 acres through its federal and state leases.

The Merlin project of the company is located in the NPRA near the Umiat oil prospect at the southeastern corner. Despite being known for oil reserves, the Umiat prospect has yet to be developed. This is due in large part to its remote location, west of Dalton Highway.

88 Energy is focusing on the Nanushuk sand-oil formations, approximately 50 miles south ConocoPhillips large Willow Oil project. This project is largely based upon Nanushuk formation discovery. According to North Slope geologists, Nanushuk oil plays are predominantly north-south.

88 Energy anticipates drilling the Merlin-2 appraisal well in February. It is located slightly east of the Merlin-1 appraisal well, which was drilled earlier this year. The company insists that it contained significant oil.

This story did not include responses from 88 Energy officials and a BLM Headquarters press representative.

NPR-A also announced that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had injuncted Willow’s early fieldwork. This was in response to a lawsuit brought by local environmental groups and Alaska Natives against BLM. The suit stemmed from ESA authorizations issued by the agency for work involving polar bears. The Willow environmental review was then officially invalidated by the U.S. District Court of Alaska judge over the summer. This prompted the agency and company to work on revised plans, permits, and other permits.

Elwood Brehmer is reachable at [email protected].

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