Alaska's oil sale threatens polar bears

Posted: 8 February 2008

The auctioning of nearly 30 million acres of prime polar bear habitat in the Chukchi Sea, Alaska, to oil and gas activities, is threatening the future of the region's polar bear populations, wildlife experts say.

The Chukchi Sea, is critical habitat for polar bears, walrus, whales, seals, and migratory birds and is experiencing some of the most rapidloss of sea ice in the world due to climate change. Yet in early January, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) of the US governmentannounced its intention to sell oil and gas leases in this area, and bidding for the licenses as now begun.

The highest bid received for the sale was $105,304,581 submitted by Shell. Other bidding companies included ConocoPhillips, StatoilHydro, NACRA, Repsol, ENI and Iona Energy.

"The technology to effectively contain and clean up oil spills does not currently exist and this oil lease is a disaster waiting to happen," said James Leaton, Oil and Gas Policy Advisor to WWF-UK.

"It's also unacceptable that oil companies and the US government are effectively seeking to make a profit from the potential demise of aspecies."

US Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has ignored repeated requests from the American public, Arctic communities and conservation groups to delay or withdraw the lease sale until there is a better understanding of its potential impact on Arctic wildlife and habitats. In addition, says WWF,an expected listing of polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act has been delayed. This listing, which would have had an impact upon the release of the leases, would have recognized the gravethreat to polar bears from loss of sea ice and habitats due to global warming.

"Selling off our natural heritage to the highest bidder is a sad spectacle and represents a step backwards in our efforts to save the Arctic and polar bears for future generations," said Carter Roberts, President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund US.