Interior asks Judge to Allow Alaska Lease Sale Without Wetlands

The Interior Department is asking a federal judge to allow a forthcoming lease sale on Alaska's North Slope to proceed without inclusion of sensitive wetlands around Teshekpuk Lake that environmentalists say must be protected.

An Interior brief filed yesterday with a U.S. District Court judge in Alaska says the planned Sept. 27 lease sale encompassing millions of acres in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska could proceed without several hundred thousand acres north and east of the lake. Environmentalists have filed suit alleging that Interior's environmental analysis is inadequate.

Interior's brief says that even if the court agrees the analysis is deficient, "by limiting the scope of the injunction, the Court would at least attempt to strike a balance between the limited nature of the environmental harm and the harm to the public interest if the opportunity to develop these important oil and gas resources is not allowed to go forward expeditiously.

"Moreover, the relief would preclude leasing, until further analysis has been completed, north of Teshekpuk Lake of the tracts which in plaintiffs' view is an unique resource worthy of special recognition," the brief adds.

Judge James Singleton had issued a preliminary decision earlier this month that blocks the lease sale, saying Interior did not do an adequate environmental analysis in its plan for leasing in the northeast section of the reserve. The judge agreed with environmentalists that Interior did not address the "cumulative" effects of the lease plan on the northeast and northwest sections.

Interior opposes the decision and continues in court filings to say the analysis was adequate, and wants the sale spanning 8 million acres in the northeast and northwest area to proceed. However, the brief filed yesterday says that if the court believes it must take some action it could block leasing in the wetlands around the lake while allowing other lease tracts to be sold.

The judge has yet to issue a final decision.

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