Polar bear harassment by oil companies challenged
July 9, 2008
According to the
Associated Press, two conservation groups filed a lawsuit recently
challenging the Bush administration''s decision to let oil companies
unintentionally harass or harm polar bears and walruses off the
northwestern Alaska coast.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District
Court in Anchorage claims that federal officials violated laws designed
to protect the animals and their sensitive habitat in the Arctic waters
of the Chukchi Sea.
Last month, the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service decided to grant legal protection to seven oil
companies in the Chukchi over the next five years should they
accidentally harm "small numbers" of polar bears or Pacific walruses
while drilling or during other exploratory activities. The agency is
named as a defendant in the suit, along with Interior Secretary Dirk
Fish and Wildlife Service officials
said oil and gas exploration will have a negligible effect on the bear
and walrus populations. Global warming is most likely to cause the
animals'' numbers to dwindle, the agency said.
Under the harassment permits, oil
companies are required to report all sightings of polar bears and
walruses, Fish and Wildlife spokesman Bruce Woods said. The agency
treats such reports as valuable data because research in the remote
region is often prohibitively expensive.
About 2,000 of the 25,000 polar bears
in the Arctic live in and around the Chukchi Sea, where the government
in February auctioned off oil leases to Royal Dutch Shell PLC
subsidiary Shell Oil Co., ConocoPhillips Co., and five other companies
for $2.6 billion. Over objections from environmentalists and some
members of Congress, the sale occurred before the bear was classified
as threatened in May.
The groups say the Chukchi is also home to nearly the entire female population of Pacific walrus.
The agency has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.