The second marine impact story is from Alaska. Oil giant Shell, which was poised to start oil exploration in the Beaufort Sea, cannot proceed until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decides whether the potential for environmental damage was properly considered by the federal agency that issued an exploration permit to the oil company.
A coalition of Native Alaskans and conservation groups have sued to halt the drilling. They fear that such large-scale industrial activity would harm endangered bowhead and beluga whales, polar bears and other marine animals and birds in coastal waters just off the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.
“The cost of drilling will lay with the local communities when the effects are seen on a daily life basis affecting our lives and our health,” said Rosemary Ahtuangaruk, an Inupiat resident of Nuiqsut, a community near the proposed Shell lease area, and member of Redoil.
The groups challenged the permit issued by the federal Minerals Management Service, MMS, on grounds that the agency failed to conduct proper assessment of environmental impacts.
The plaintiff groups are the Alaska Wilderness League, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pacific Environment, Center for Biological Diversity, and Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands, Redoil.
The court order concludes that the petitioners “have shown a probability of success on the merits” and “the balance of hardships tips sharply in their favor.” “The agency’s own scientists have warned that this type of activity could threaten serious impacts to bowhead whale mothers with calves,” said Deirdre McDonnell, attorney with the nonprofit, public interest law firm Earthjustice, which is representing the plaintiffs.