Arctic & Antarctica
This January 2013 photo shows a floating drill rig in Alaska’s Kiliuda Bay. (James Brooks/Kodiak Daily Mirror via AP, File)

Feds Ask Ninth Circuit to Approve Arctic Drilling Plan

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – Alaska’s icy northern seas are melting, with this year marking the third lowest on record for Arctic sea ice.

Meanwhile, the government asked a Ninth Circuit panel Tuesday to allow it to open those warming waters to more drilling, claiming oil and gas projects in the U.S. will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a permit in October 2018 allowing Hilcorp Alaska to build a nine-acre artificial island in the Beaufort Sea, off the northeast coast of Alaska. There, Hilcorp’s Liberty project would drill oil wells, build a production facility and construct an undersea pipeline to move an estimated 120 million barrels of oil over the next 25 years.

The Beaufort Sea hovered at 4 degrees Celsius above average this year, according to data from the National Snow & Ice Data Center.

Environmental groups challenged the permit in December, claiming the Trump administration skirted the law to approve the project.

In court filings, the government claimed that drilling for oil in one of North America’s most pristine natural reserves would be good for the environment, and rejecting the project would force consumers to buy imported oil from countries with weaker environmental protections than those imposed by the United States.

Justice Department attorney James Maysonett repeated that argument Tuesday for a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit at the Pioneer Courthouse in Portland, Oregon.

“It may be counterintuitive, but that doesn’t mean it’s irrational to say that if we don’t develop oil and gas resources in this country and we choose instead to rely on foreign and imported oil, we can stick our head in the sand and say that has no environmental effects,” Maysonett told the judges, all of whom were appointed by Democratic presidents.

Earthjustice attorney Rebecca Noblin, arguing for five environmental groups, said that line of reasoning ignores the bureau’s own prior analysis showing that one source of oil, if removed from the market, is not neatly replaced by the same volume of oil from another source.

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