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Sep 142010

From Green Right Now Reports

The state of Alaska has filed a petition in federal court to overturn the Obama administration’s moratorium on drilling in federal waters of the Arctic.

The problem: The Interior Department insists that no such formal moratorium exists.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, the petition says the Interior Department “arbitrarily and capriciously imposed” a moratorium on drilling in federal waters off Alaska after the Deepwater Horizon disaster “without considering and weighing the potential effects on Alaska, including economic harm to the State of Alaska and Alaska residents.”

Interior Department officials, however, insist that the drilling moratorium imposed on deepwater Gulf of Mexico operations is separate from a policy decision to take a go-slow approach on new Arctic offshore drilling.

“There is no moratorium in Alaska and therefore nothing to sue on. The moratorium is on deepwater drilling and there is no deepwater drilling in Alaska,” Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said in an email.

“We are taking a cautious approach to offshore oil and gas development as we strengthen safety and oversight of offshore oil and gas operations. This includes the Arctic, which presents unique environmental challenges.”

Royal Dutch Shell had planned to drill up to three wells in the Chukchi Sea and up to two wells in the Beaufort Sea during this year’s summer and fall open-water period. Those prospects are in waters no deeper than 150 feet, considered shallow.

In response to the blowout and massive spill at BP’s Deepwater Horizon well, the Interior Department announced that it would not issue drilling permits to Shell until more study was completed. Shell has said it hopes to drill the Chukchi and Beaufort wells next year.

Sep 102010

From Green Right Now Reports

Continued uneasiness about the safety of offshore oil drilling may lead to delays in Royal Dutch Shell’s plans to proceed with five planned wells in Alaska’s Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

“We will be making that decision in the several months ahead,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at an Anchorage news conference, citing pending reports on offshore drilling safety and the results of an investigation into the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The review process could thwart Shell’s plans to prepare a drilling program for the brief 2011 open-water season.

Arctic Alaska was not formally included in the moratorium placed on deepwater drilling in the wake of the Gulf oil spill, but a related Salazar decision delayed exploratory drilling Shell had expected to conduct this summer and fall.

Salazar held the news conference at the end of a brief visit to Alaska, including the North Slope, where the mostly Inupiat Eskimo residents are staunchly opposed to offshore oil development.

Officials are not yet confident about drilling safety and oil-spill prevention and response capabilities in the Arctic. “Until we have answered several questions, no drilling will be allowed in the area,” Salazar said.

Previous analysis estimated that the Beaufort Sea off northern Alaska holds about 8 billion barrels of recoverable oil and the Chukchi Sea off the state’s northwestern coast holds about 15 billion. But Salazar warned that pack ice, extreme remoteness and other forbidding conditions make offshore Arctic drilling “a very different kind of challenge.”

“If you look at the Chukchi, it would be very difficult to mount the kind of spill response that was mounted in the Gulf,” he said.

Jan 252010

From Green Right Now Reports

Arizona wildlife authorities should have notified federal officers before setting a trap last year that ensnared a jaguar, leading to the death of the cat, according to an investigative report by the U.S. Interior Department’s Inspector General’s office released last week.

Because the jaguar is an endangered species, the local authorities were supposed to notify the federal wildlife overseers and obtain a permit for the capture, investigators found. Their failure to apply for a permit was a violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Arizona Game and Fish Department authorities have maintained that the capture of the jaguar, known as Macho B, was inadvertent. But the IG’s office found that even that circumstance did not exempt local wardens from needing a permit while conducting operations in known jaguar territory.

“We found that the AZGFD was aware of Macho B’s presence in the vicinity of its mountain lion and black bear study in late December 2008 and January 2009, yet it did not consult with FWS, as required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973,” investigators wrote.

The death of the cat has been under investigation since environmentalists raised questions about the animal’s suspicious death in 2009. Macho B was possibly the last jaguar alive in the wild in the United States. He died in February 2009 after being captured in a leg hold snare meant for mountain lions an black bear.

Arizona Fish and Game personnel affixed a GPS tracking device to the  jaguar and freed him.  But in days, the GPS collar indicated Macho B was not moving. Researchers found him, lethargic and ailing; veterinarians determined that Macho B was suffering from renal (kidney) failure and euthanized him.

The death prompted calls for more details about the trapping, and raised questions about whether the stress of the capture contributed to Macho B’s demise. The cat was older, and estimated to be 16-20 to years old. After the ailing cat was recaptured, experts agreed he was suffering from lethal renal failure, and he was euthanized.

The Center for Biological Diversity is suing the AGFD over the death in an effort to prevent any further operations from jeopardizing any possible remaining U.S. jaguars, or those that might wander across the border from Mexico.

“This report affirms all of the legal claims in our litigation to prevent Arizona Game and Fish from killing another jaguar, and will be critical evidence at trial,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.

The IG report also suggests that Macho B may have been injured in his capture, which the Arizona GFD denies, concluding that the animal lost a canine tooth while ensnared and not before the capture, as state officials had argued. The tooth was broken to the root, according to the report, which suggests it could have been the entry point for infection.

Federal investigators also found that the autopsy of Macho B was less than thorough. It was performed as a “cosmetic necropsy,” which preserved the pelt but was less exploratory than a full autopsy, because a state authority did not know the difference between a “cosmetic necropsy” and a “complete necropsy.”

The Department of the Interior encompasses the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the Endangered Species Act.