Court orders withdrawal of Arctic off-shore energy leases

In a victory for America’s Arctic, a federal court today issued an opinion requiring that the U.S. Department of the Interior withdraw and reconsider the Bush Administration’s 2007 to 2012 oil and gas lease sale program for the outer continental shelf.

The court upheld the claim that the environmental sensitivity rankings in the lease sale program are irrational, and thus required that the lease sale program be “vacated” for reconsideration.

This affirms what The Wilderness Society has been saying since 2007 when the leasing plan was put in place, the Bush Administration did not adequately analyze the environmental sensitivity of the marine ecosystems in the Beaufort, Chukchi and Bearing Seas.

Although The Wilderness Society was not one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, tens of thousands of our members and activists had expressed their deep concern in recent weeks about proposals to increase oil and gas exploration and development in the Arctic Ocean under this Bush lease plan.

In total, Wilderness Society members and activists wrote more than 98,000 letters to the Department of the Interior to say that oil and gas development posed too great a risk to the whales, walrus, seals, fish, migratory birds and other wildlife that live in Arctic waters and the Native communities whose subsistence cultures rely on such wildlife.

This decision gives the Obama Administration the legal justification to take a new, careful approach to the Arctic by developing a comprehensive conservation and energy plan. This plan should be based on sound science and determine if, when, where, and how development should proceed that protects the environment and the subsistence cultures of the Alaska Natives of the North Slope. We believe all new oil and gas development and related activities should be deferred until this comprehensive plan is completed.

We’re thrilled by this good news.