Environmental groups sue over Cook Inlet oil and gas sale

Cook Inlet oil platforms are visible from shore near Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Environmental groups are suing the federal government over next week’s federal lease sale in Cook Inlet, alleging the environmental analysis on the sale was incomplete and did not consider less harmful alternatives.

The long-anticipated federal sale will put up for bid nearly one million acres and was previously canceled, due to lack of industry interest. This time, it’s required in federal law, part of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.

Sue Mauger is executive director of Cook Inletkeeper, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. She said the environmental review process was hurried to comply with the end-of-the-year deadline.

“Just because they were rushed to get this done, that does not allow them to skip steps,” Mauger said. “And they clearly have.”

She said the Interior Department failed to consider alternatives that could lessen the impacts of oil and gas development on wildlife — like auctioning off a smaller area of the inlet, for example. And she said the process does not take into account the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, which sets the ground rules for environmental regulations

“We ultimately want no oil spills,” Mauger said. “We want minimal, if any, impacts to our whales and sea otters and fisheries.”

It’s unclear what would happen to leaseholders if a judge were to make a ruling on the case after the sale takes place.

Mauger said the plaintiffs hope oil and gas companies take the suit into account before they bid. And she said it’s important to let the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management know that it has to follow a more rigorous environmental review before it holds a sale like this one and another one in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Our hope is, first of all, that no one bids on Dec. 30,” she said. “And the second option is for BOEM to realize that they rushed through a lot of things and haven’t addressed a great many concerns, and that they go back and actually come up with a more reasonable environmental impact statement.”

The Department of the Interior declined to comment on the suit.

There’s no guarantee oil and gas companies will place bids in next week’s sale. Oil and gas company Hilcorp has been the only company to bid on federal leases in recent years. The company recently announced it was rethinking its natural gas contracts amid uncertain supply.

Currently, another lease sale is taking place in the state waters of Cook Inlet. That sale includes 2.8 million acres both on- and offshore from Wasilla to Anchor Point.

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