| ANCHORAGE, Alaska
ANCHORAGE, Alaska May 5 A coalition of
environmental and Alaska Native groups on Monday filed a
lawsuit seeking to block the oil industry from conducting
seismic tests the groups say will harm whales, walruses and
other marine mammals in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage,
targets permits issued to Shell (RDSa.L) and BP (BP.L) by the
U.S. Minerals Management Service and the National Marine
Shell holds permits to survey areas of the Arctic Ocean for
potential new oil sources, and BP has a permit to survey the
area around its Liberty prospect in the Beaufort Sea.
The main threats from seismic tests are the loud, repeated
blasts made by air guns used to map out undersea geologic
formations and seafloor conditions, environmentalists say.
"They're far louder than sound levels that can injure, that
can literally deafen marine mammals," said Brendan Cummings,
oceans program manager for the Center for Biological Diversity,
one of the plaintiffs in the case.
Other plaintiffs include the Native Village of Point Hope,
the Alaska Wilderness League and the National Resources Defense
Cummings said that other threats come from the presence of
a fleet of vessels needed to conduct the tests. There are risks
of leaks and oil spills, a potential for ship strikes injuring
swimming mammals and disturbances that could scare animals away
from their migration and feeding areas, he said.
With the oil industry rushing to tap Alaska's offshore
regions, this year is shaping up as the busiest offshore
seismic seasons since the 1980s in the Chukchi and Beaufort,
according to the lawsuit.
"It's going to be loud in the water for any marine mammal,"
An MMS spokeswoman said the agency had not yet reviewed the
lawsuit and request for a preliminary injunction and could not
comment on the legal efforts.
MMS spokeswoman Robin Cacy said that along with the permits
already issued to Shell and BP, there are other permits
"Obviously, since we've got a bunch of new leases in the
Chukchi, they're going to be doing a lot of seismic (work),"
A February lease sale held by MMS yielded a record $2.66
billion in high bids for Chukchi exploration rights, including
$2.1 billion from Shell and $506.4 million from ConocoPhillips
(COP.N). Repsol, StatoilHydro and Eni also picked up dozens of
tracts at the lease sale.
Earlier this year, Shell spent $2.1 billion acquiring
leases in the Chukchi, the remote sea that separates
northwestern Alaska from Siberia. Shell also plans exploration
work this year at its Sivulliq prospect in the Beaufort Sea,
which was among the properties acquired when the company spent
$44 million in a 2005 lease sale.
ConocoPhillips also plans to do seismic work this year
around its Chukchi leases. Other companies, including Arctic
Slope Regional Corp., a Barrow-based Native-owned corporation,
have applied for permits to conduct offshore seismic tests on
behalf of various oil companies.
(Editing by David Gregorio)