A coalition of environmental organizations and Inupiaq native groups filed suit in a US federal court in Anchorage yesterday to force the Interior Department to do a new analysis of the environmental consequences of oil and gas exploration in the Chukchi Sea, off northwestern Alaska.
The groups hope to stop plans to develop 29 million acres, which they argue could harm the endangered bowhead whale, a staple of subsistence hunting, and the polar bear, which is under consideration for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The current environmental assessment, the suit says, fails to adequately analyze the impact of the lease sale in the context of a warming climate. The assessment also “understates the potential impacts of oil and gas development,” including the risks of an oil spill, the suit says.
The sale of leases in the Chukchi Sea, which Interior Department officials estimate has 15 billion barrels of oil and 77 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, is scheduled to take place next week. While the lawsuit does not seek to block the sale, should the judge agree with the environmental and native groups that the original environmental assessment was flawed, any leases might be voided.
In a statement, Steve Oomittuk, the mayor of Point Hope City, using his group’s native name, said: “The people of Tikigaq have hunted and depended on the animals that migrate through the Chukchi Sea for thousands of years. This is our garden, our identity, our livelihood.”