At the end of last week, environmental campaigners and Native Alaskans were celebrating a huge victory.

A US Federal Appeals court ruled that the Bush administration did not properly study the environmental impact of expanding oil and gas drilling off the Alaska coast.

A three-judge panel in Washington found that the Bush-era Interior Department failed to consider the effect on the environment and marine life before it began the process in August 2005 to expand an oil and gas leasing program in the Beaufort, Bering and Chukchi seas.

It halted the new drilling programme pending a full review and demanded further research be undertaken on environmental risks and potential damage. The court held that the Interior Department’s five-year plan, initiated in 2005, did not “properly consider the environmental sensitivity” of different areas of the Outer Continental Shelf beyond the Alaska coast.

Theses seas are highly ecologically sensitive and diverse and home to polar bears, whales, seals, walruses and seabirds. They are the traditional hunting grounds for the Inupiat Eskimo communities who responded extremely positively to the judgement. “That’s great news. We’ve been requesting a moratorium until more research is done,” said Doreen Lampe of Barrow, Alaska, a whaling town on the far northern tip of the continent, on the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. “I truly hope they will do a better job of studying this.”

Not surprisingly the oil industry was outraged. “It would be a disservice to all Americans — and a devastating blow to the economy — if this decision were to delay further the development of vital oil and natural gas resources,” the American Petroleum Institute said in a statement.

Undeterred, oil giant Shell, which was by far the biggest bidder for oil leases in the Chukchi last year, said it still planned to start exploration drilling next year in the area. Pete Slaiby, Shell’s general manager for Alaska, said: “We still have every intention of pursuing a drilling program in the Beaufort and the Chukchi.”

So, once again Shell seems to be ignoring the lawyers – just like Nigeria – where it is ignoring a legal ruling to stop gas flaring…