As the US government invites tenders for oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea, just days before a ruling on whether the polar bear should be added to the list of endangered species, it is facing a new scandal.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility – PEER – has released internal emails from the Interior Department’s own scientists that undermines the legality of its offshore oil and gas lease sales.

PEER argues that the emails belie Bush administration claims that environmental risks were adequately considered prior to offering tracts in the Chukchi, Beaufort and Bering Seas for drilling.

The internal e-mails from current and former Interior scientists raise troubling questions about how badly environmental assessments of Arctic offshore oil development were skewed.

Now the Interior Department is trying to stop more damaging leaks, writing to PEER “…we request that you immediately cease your unauthorized publication of these privileged communications and return them to MMS [Minerals Management Service], along with other MMS communications or documents in your possession that MMS has not authorized for disclosure.”

“Congress should hear directly from the agency scientists whose work was altered or axed altogether,” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, argues: “The Bush administration oil rush in the Arctic is lubricated by systematic scientific fraud.”