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Federal appeals court rejects Alaska offshore drilling plan

FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2017 file photo provided by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental...
FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2017 file photo provided by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, oil production equipment appears on Spy Island, an artificial island in state waters of Alaska's Beaufort Sea. (Guy Hayes/Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement via AP, File)(Guy Hayes | AP)
Published: Dec. 8, 2020 at 5:29 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A federal court blocked an Alaska offshore drilling prospect, while the Trump administration announced plans to auction drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain.

An appeals court on Monday overturned approval for the Liberty Project, a Hilcorp Alaska LLC offshore drilling prospect located in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska Public Media reported.

The government granted the Liberty Project approval in Oct. 2018 to become the first oil and gas production well in federal Arctic waters.

But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday agreed with environmental groups that said the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management review was inadequate.

The judges said the agency should have quantified the well’s greenhouse gas emissions, including the impact of oil produced and sent overseas.

They also faulted the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for not estimating the non-lethal impact drilling would have on polar bears.

Hilcorp became the sole owner of Liberty Project after purchasing BP’s oil and gas production assets in Alaska earlier this year.

Separately, the government released a document Monday detailing terms of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge sale set for Jan. 6 and the timeline for drilling rights bids, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported.

The document said oil companies and other interested parties can bid on tracts covering the nearly 2,500 square miles (6,475 square kilometers) of the coastal plain owned by the federal government.

Supporters including Alaska’s Congressional delegation have said the auction is good for jobs and the economy. Conservation groups and some tribal groups raised concerns about impacts to wildlife, the climate and Indigenous people.

The federal government on Monday also announced plans to consider a request from the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation to conduct seismic testing in the coastal plain as early as Jan. 21.

The proposal would allow the “harassment” of up to three polar bears that could occur during the seismic exploration program, including possible disruption to migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding or sheltering.

Environmental groups criticized the proposal.

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