Alaska Oil, Gas Lease Sale Approved

Four environmental groups lost their bid to resurrect legal challenges to federal oil and gas lease sales on 80,000 acres in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeal Thursday upheld dismissal of two lawsuits on technical grounds, saying the groups should have brought up challenges earlier in the planning stage with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM.)

The groups sued alleging the lease sales were illegal because the Interior Department failed to consider the effects on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The sale was challenged by the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Sierra Club, Wilderness Society and Alaska Wilderness League.

The BLM published a 2,600-page document in 2012 styled as both an activity plan and environmental impact statement for management of all 10 million acres of land in the reserve, which is on the north shore of Alaska and about the size of Indiana.

Included in that plan was the finding that it would meet the NEPA requirements. The groups did not sue until 2017 when the BLM issued a call for nominations for unleased tracts for a lease sale.  Bidding opened on 900 available tracts, covering roughly 80,000 acres. Only ConocoPhillips Alaska Inc. bid.

Judge Milan Smith wrote the BLM did not violate NEPA by failing to prepare a NEPA analysis of the 2017 sale because the BLM had prepared an analysis in 2012. The 2012 EIS was the EIS for the 2017 lease sale and thus it is too late for the groups to complain now.

He was joined by Judges Randy Smith (no relation) and visiting Judge John Tunheim of Minnesota district court.

Case: Northern Alaska Environmental Center v. Dept of Interior, No. 19-35008

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