By Dave Donaldson
Governor Sean Parnell today filed another suit against the federal government – this time to overturn the federal moratorium that’s holding up oil exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf.
In announcing the suit, Governor Parnell said not drilling in the Arctic Ocean puts at risk Alaska’s economic security. He refers to estimates of 27-Billion barrels of oil, 132-Trillion feet of natural gas. He says it will provide an estimated 41-thousand direct and indirect jobs with a $52-Billion payroll — on an annual basis.
We’re talking about something that holds a huge economic potential for, not only this great state, but this land and nation of ours.
He says the suit challenges the authority of the federal moratorium on deepwater drilling that went into place after the B-P explosion and spill in the Gulf of Mexico. At a hearing in Anchorage two weeks ago, Bureau of Ocean Energy Mangement Director Michael Bromwich said the moratorium did not apply to Alaska’s OCS. But last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was less clear on the issue. Salazar said that although the moratorium didn’t technically cover Alaska, his department isn’t allowing any drilling to go ahead in Arctic waters.
Attorney General Daniel Sullivan says the Interior Secretary is essentially expanding the moratorium in violation of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. And that is what the lawsuit addresses. He says the law requires the Department to notify the Governor of any expected action, and gives the state the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process.
The department of the interior clearly did not do that with regard to the Arctic moratorium, never consulted the state, or gave notice to the state or Governor Parnell as it was required to do, never solicited comments, and therefore we believe has clearly violated federal law and breached its duty to the state and to the citizens of Alaska.
He says it also violated the Federal Administrative Procedures Act which requires an opinion, a reason for findings and a written decision – all of which were absent before Salazar made his comments. He also points out that the state and the Interior Department were allied in court, together successfully defending Arctic drilling — until the Deepwater Horizon spill.
The Interior Department is unclear on the future of the Alaska drilling ban. Spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff says Salazar has delayed drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas and has cancelled four lease sales in the Arctic.
We are taking a cautious approach to offshore gas and oil development as we strengthen safety and oversight of offshore oil and gas operations. This includes the arctic, which presents a unique environmental challenge. We need additional information about spill risk and spill response capabilities.
Sullivan says the federal government has sixty days to respond to the state’s legal complaint.
The courts will have to sort out one question: Is it a moratorium? For Salazar’s unclear position on the subject, you can listen to Annie Feidt’s story on the secretary’s press conference to explain the subject. Here is a link to that story.