FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, February 13, 2007
CONTACTS: Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity, (951) 961-7972
Whit Sheard, Pacific Environment, (907) 277-1029
Clayton Jernigan, Earthjustice, (907) 586-2751
Suit Filed to Protect Polar Bears and Walrus
From Oil Exploration and Global Warming
SAN FRANCISCO— Polar bears and walrus are facing a serious threat in the Arctic from expanding oil and gas exploration because federal regulations don’t assess the combined risks posed by such activity and global warming, according to a suit filed today in federal court by environmental groups. The suit challenges U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations that allow harm to the animals through oil and gas activities in the Beaufort Sea and adjacent coastal plains, where global warming is shrinking ice sheets that are critical to survival of the species.
“Polar bears can suffer harm from activities such as drilling, seismic work and transportation which disturb feeding, cause abandonment of maternity dens and generally disrupt polar bear life cycles,” said Earthjustice attorney Clayton Jernigan, who filed the suit on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Environment.
The Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t assess impacts in the context of a warming Arctic, and failed to demand that appropriate protective measures be taken by those engaged in exploration, said Kassie Siegel, climate program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. Siegel was lead author of the petition that convinced the federal government to propose listing the polar bear as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act due to global warming.
“The government is well aware that global warming threatens polar bears with extinction and is transforming the entire Arctic ecosystem, yet these regulations fail to take this into account,’’ said Siegel. The Fish and Wildlife Service has identified global climate change as the principal threat to polar bear survival.
Recent research confirms that global warming degrades the bears’ physical condition, reduces cub survival and is linked to drowning, starvation and cannibalism among the bears, said Whit Sheard of Pacific Environment. He said the suit is aimed at preventing oil and gas exploration from further hurting the animals. “The FWS must take a hard look at the impacts of both a changing Arctic environment and increased oil and gas development before authorizing further harm to polar bears and walrus,” Sheard said.
By issuing the regulations without taking global warming into account, the suit says, the Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. The suit asks that the court declare the regulations unlawful and require the agency to do a thorough analysis of how global warming and oil exploration and development affect polar bears and walrus. The suit also aims to guarantee that any new regulations be based on such analysis to assure the animals’ safety.
The suit was filed February 13th in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco.
Earthjustice is a nonprofit law firm dedicated to protecting the environment. See http://www.earthjustice.org.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with over 32,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and their habitats. The Center drafted the petition resulting in the recent proposal to protect the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/SPECIES/polarbear/index.html.
Pacific Environment protects the living environment of the Pacific Rim by promoting grassroots activism, strengthening communities and reforming international policies. See http://www.pacificenvironment.org.
Map of current and proposed oil and gas leases on Alaska's North Slope: http://www.pacificenvironment.org/downloads/ns_leases_2006-12-04_1.pdf