For Immediate Release, June 10, 2008
Contact: Brendan Cummings, Center for Biological Diversity, (760) 366-2232 x 304
Department of Interior Issues Oil Industry Blank Check to
Harass Polar Bears and Pacific Walrus in Chukchi Sea
Rule Exempting Oil Industry Activities From
Marine Mammal Protection Act Finalized
SAN FRANCISCO— Today the Department of the Interior finalized regulations that would allow essentially unlimited harassment of polar bears and Pacific walrus by oil companies operating in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska. Harassment of polar bears and walrus is prohibited by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, yet the new regulations, to be published in tomorrow’s Federal Register, exempt oil companies operating in the Chukchi Sea from these restrictions for a period of five years.
Polar bears were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act on May 15, 2008. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne stated that no additional protection for the polar bear was necessary under the Endangered Species Act as the Marine Mammal Protection Act provided adequate protection. The Interior Department consequently promulgated a special rule exempting polar bears from the “take” prohibitions of the Endangered Species Act. Today’s rule now exempts oil companies operating in the Chukchi Sea from the “take” prohibitions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act as well.
“Today’s rule waiving the protections of the Marine Mammal Protection Act for polar bears and walrus indicates the Department of the Interior is far more concerned with protecting oil company profits than polar bears,” said Brendan Cummings, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If polar bears and Pacific walrus are to survive in the face of global warming, we simply cannot allow oil development in the Chukchi Sea.”
The Chukchi Sea is the least touched by industrial development of any area of Alaska's Arctic. The area is home to most of the world's Pacific walrus as well as one of only two polar bear populations in the United States. In February 2008 the Department of the Interior offered leases on approximately 30 million acres of the Chukchi Sea. Approximately 2.7 million acres were bid on by oil companies and most of these leases have now been issued. Additional lease sales in the Chukchi Sea are scheduled for 2010 and 2012.
The regulations issued today would allow oil companies to saturate the ocean with sonic blasts from four simultaneously operating survey ships each summer, deploy and operate three offshore drill rigs a year, build hundreds of miles of roads and run seismic trucks through polar bear denning areas along the coast, and simultaneously operate over two dozen ships and aircraft —including highly disruptive ice-breakers — 24 hours a day in sensitive areas.
“These regulations are a blank check to the oil industry to carry on their operations irrespective of their impacts on endangered marine mammals,” said Cummings. “It is unacceptable to allow polar bears and walrus to be sacrificed on the altar of oil company profits.”