The Alaska Wilderness League says protests also are planned for Shell Oil gas stations.
On Monday, Animal activists pressed the US government to add the polar bear to the list of endangered animal species before the sell-off. "An endangered listing can affect the sell-off of the oil drilling rights," Brandon Frazier, a spokesman for global animal welfare group International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said. "The authorities would have to get approval through the Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct drilling if there is an endangered species that inhabits the area."
The US Fish and Wildlife Services last month announced it was putting off a decision on listing the polar bear as a threatened species until after the sell-off of oil and gas drilling rights in Alaska.
"They are trying to wait it out, get the lease-sale through and then make the decision," said Frazier.
"That way, they could list the lease-sale as an exemption," he added.
Those opposed to the slaes also say the federal government has ignored changing conditions in the Arctic Ocean, including record low summer sea ice, that already are stressing polar bears, whales and other Arctic sea life.
"The Chukchi Sea is an ecologically rich frontier environment, and it is changing rapidly due to global warming," said Stan Senner, Audubon Alaska executive director. "We barely know this changing seascape, and this is not the time to move forward with a massive lease sale."
“The Chukchi Sea is our garden. We’ve hunted and fished in the ocean for thousands of years,” said Jack Schaefer, President of the tribal council of the Native Village of Point Hope. “The ocean is what our history and culture is based on. We can't afford to stop our religious, cultural and subsistence activities that depend on the ocean. One oil spill could destroy our way of life,” said Schaefer.
A coalition made up of the Native Village of Point Hope, the City of Point Hope, the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, REDOIL (Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands), Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Oceana, Pacific Environment, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society filed suit in federal district court in Alaska on January 31, arguing that in making its decision to hold today’s lease sale, MMS did not adequately weigh the impacts oil and gas activities would have on wildlife like polar bears, or on native villages along Alaska’s North Slope. The organizations are being represented by Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER says the Interior Department is working to stop the flow of internal e-mails from its own scientists that undermine the legality of the offshore oil and gas lease sales.
During the past three weeks, PEER has released a series of internal e-mails from current and former Interior scientists raising questions about how badly environmental assessments of Arctic offshore oil development were skewed.
The e-mails are contrary to Bush administration claims that environmental risks were adequately considered prior to offering tracts for lease in the Chukchi, Beaufort and Bering Seas for oil exploration.
The Minerals Management Service said today the oil and gas exploration lease sale has drawn a record number of bids for Alaska's outer continental shelf.
The following is from KTUU (Alaska).
Chukchi Sea lease sale starts in Anchorage
With protesters standing outside, the U.S. Minerals Management Service on Wednesday opened bids for more than 29 million acres of petroleum leases in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska's northwest shore.
Officials said there were 667 bids to be reviewed Wednesday. The process was expected to take about four hours. ConocoPhillips was among the early bidders.
Randall Luthi, MMS director, says he is confident development could occur without harm to the environment. The closest bid is 54 miles off shore.
A handful of conservation and Alaska Native groups demonstrated outside against the sale as temperatures dipped to minus 13.