Issue Date: January 14, 2008
Oil Drilling Versus Polar Bears
Two Department of Interior agencies are taking actions that could have opposite effects on the future of polar bears. On Jan. 2, Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS) said it is selling oil and gas leases on nearly 30 million acres of polar bear habitat in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's northwest coast. The lease sale will take place on Feb. 6. Meanwhile, on Jan. 8, Interior's Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) said it will decide in about a month whether polar bears should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. FWS is considering new data from the U.S. Geological Survey that predict declining Arctic sea ice could cause two-thirds of the world's polar bears to disappear by 2050. But many federal scientists, including some in MMS, believe that oil and gas drilling activities—such as noise, seismic tests, and ship traffic—can endanger polar bears and that designating the animals as an endangered species can significantly impact the value of the drilling leases. The Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, and the Center for Biological Diversity have announced their intention to sue FWS to try to force the agency to reach a decision on the polar bears sooner.
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