A Glimmer of Hope?

Appeals Court Throws Out Drilling Program

By IAN TALLEY WSJ

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court Friday threw out some of the U.S. government’s largest leasing programs for offshore oil and gas exploration, potentially halting development in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

The Washington federal court of appeals told the Department of Interior in its ruling that the agency needed to better consider the environmental impact of oil exploration in those regions.

An assessment by the Interior Department conducted during the administration of President George W. Bush on the environmental sensitivity of some areas was “irrational,” the three-judge panel said. The agency must first reconsider its assessment, the court ruled, before moving ahead with its 2007-2012 lease sale program, especially in the Beaufort, Bering, and Chukchi seas off Alaska.

It wasn’t entirely clear whether the decision applies to other areas of the same expanded offshore drilling program, including tracks in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Coast.

Attorneys for the environmentalists and the industry said they think it would cancel the entire program, not just the Arctic region. Officials at the Interior Department could not immediately answer the question.

The appeals court ordered the Interior Department, now run by President Barack Obama’s appointee Ken Salazar, to analyze the areas to determine environmental risks and potential damage before moving ahead with the program.

This ruling is a huge potential hammer for those of us who want to protect the environment from new offshore drilling.

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