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Alaska village pulls out of lawsuit that stalled drilling on Arctic Outer Continental Shelf

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Native Village of Point Hope, a tribal government that has for years been a staunch opponent of Arctic offshore oil development, is withdrawing from a lawsuit that sought to block or overturn a 2008 lease sale.

The village was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that claimed the U.S. Mineral Management Service had conducted a flawed environmental analysis before the sale in the Chukchi Sea, the Alaska Dispatch News (http://bit.ly/1N8BjsU ) reported.

The decision was made after the federal government released new safeguards specific to the Arctic that are "allowing for safer OCS exploration as a result of this lawsuit," the council said.

"We will not be giving up our protection of our subsistence rights as Inupiaq people of Point Hope, but need to redirect our efforts in order to be a part of the oversight of all OCS exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea," said Jack Schaefer, the Native village president, in a letter to Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe, who has represented the village and other plaintiffs. Grafe said by email Wednesday he could not comment on the tribal government's resolution to the case.

Schaefer in a statement Tuesday said the decision also was based on the desire to see economic benefits.

"After careful consideration, we realized this litigation was preventing us from having meaningful discussions inside our region regarding responsible resource development. We will continue to closely monitor Outer Continental Shelf drilling activities while we pursue title and ownership of our ocean as an aboriginal claim to maintain control of our area — which includes revenue sharing of our oil," he said.

The former Minerals Management Service conducted the Chukchi Sea lease sale on Feb. 6, 2008. It attracted $2.7 billion in high bids, including $2.1 billion from a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

Conservation groups strongly opposed Arctic offshore drilling and say oil companies have not demonstrated they can clean up major spills in icy conditions far from infrastructure available in the Gulf of Mexico and other drilling areas.

The original lawsuit, with 15 plaintiffs, including mostly conservation groups, said the Bush administration rushed the sale and used a deficient environmental review.

Federal courts twice ruled that the pre-sale environmental analysis was inadequate.

The second rewrite resulted in a final study released by Feb. 12 by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell within days is expected to issue a record of decision endorsing the revised environmental review and affirming the lease sale.

Affirmation by Jewell would allow formal review of Shell's new exploratory drilling plan. The oil giant has not said whether it will drill in the Chukchi in 2015 if it receives the federal OK.


Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, http://www.adn.com

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