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Alaskan Offshore Oil Leases Thrown Out by Appeals Court

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The Minerals Management Service suffered a major defeat this week, as a Federal Appeals Court ruled that its current five-year leasing program plans for Alaskan waters be vacated and remanded to the Department of Interior for more substantial environmental analysis.  The program includes oil and gas leasing from 2007-2012 on the Outer Continental Shelf; only one lease has been offered in Alaskan waters, though more are in the planning stages.  MMS did produce a 1600 page environmental assessment, but the court found it lacking. Among the primary considerations cited by the court was inadequate analysis of the effects of exploration and drilling noise on migrating Bowhead whales, and similarly inadequate assessment of effects on fish. Kim Elton, director of Alaska Affairs for the Department of the Interior, said his office is still studying the ruling. Though industry officials and some Republicans in the US Congress have called for a quick approval of further offshore development, Elton said the latest ruling should convince people that rushing to formulate land-use policies leave them open to challenge in court and not make hurried assumptions based on the work of the previous administration. “We too often end up doing things in a rushed way without recognising the fact that the paradigm is likely to be challenged,” he said. “And if we don’t do our upfront work we allow a group of people wearing black robes or a person wearing a black robe to set policy.”

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