U.S. federal appeals court rejects Alaska offshore drilling plan

A U.S. appeals court overturned approval for an offshore drilling prospect located in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska, pictured above. The court said the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management review of the project was inadequate. (David Goldman/The Associated Press)
Trump administration still set to auction drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

A U.S. federal court blocked an Alaska offshore drilling prospect, while the Trump administration announced plans to auction drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)’s coastal plain.

An appeals court on Monday overturned approval for the Liberty Project, a Hilcorp Alaska LLC offshore drilling prospect located in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska Public Media reported.

The government granted the Liberty Project approval in October 2018 to become the first oil and gas production well in federal Arctic waters.

But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday agreed with environmental groups that said the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management review was inadequate.

The judges said the agency should have quantified the well’s greenhouse gas emissions, including the impact of oil produced and sent overseas.

They also faulted the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for not estimating the non-lethal impact drilling would have on polar bears.

Hilcorp became the sole owner of Liberty Project after purchasing BP’s oil and gas production assets in Alaska earlier this year.

Auction for drilling rights in ANWR moving forward

Separately, the government released a document Monday detailing terms of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge sale set for Jan. 6 and the timeline for drilling rights bids, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported.

The document said oil companies and other interested parties can bid on tracts covering the nearly 6,475 square kilometres of the coastal plain owned by the federal government.

Supporters including Alaska’s Congressional delegation have said the auction is good for jobs and the economy. Conservation groups and some tribal groups raised concerns about impacts to wildlife, the climate and Indigenous people.

The federal government on Monday also announced plans to consider a request from the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation to conduct seismic testing in the coastal plain as early as Jan. 21.

The proposal would allow the “harassment” of up to three polar bears that could occur during the seismic exploration program, including possible disruption to migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding or sheltering.

Environmental groups criticized the proposal.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Indigenous leaders applaud most recent Canadian bank to nix financing Arctic oil and gas, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: The Arctic Railway – Building a future, or destroying a culture?, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Indigenous wildfire knowledge to be key part of new Arctic Council project, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Russian Indigenous groups call on Elon Musk to boycott company behind Arctic environmental disasters, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: U.S. government makes proposal that could limit bank pullback of Arctic oil, gas funds, The Associated Press

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