For Immediate Release, August 4, 2021

Contact:

Kristen Monsell, (510) 844-7137, kmonsell@biologicaldiversity.org

Biden Administration Lets Oil Companies Disturb Polar Bears, Walruses in Alaska’s Western Arctic, Beaufort Sea

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— The Biden administration issued a final rule today allowing oil and gas companies operating in the Beaufort Sea and Western Arctic to harass polar bears and Pacific walruses when drilling or searching for oil for the next five years.

“It’s disturbing to see the Biden administration letting oil companies continue their assault on polar bears, walruses and our climate,” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Arctic should be protected, not turned into a noisy, dirty oil field. President Biden promised bold climate action, but this is business as usual. Polar bears and walruses deserve better.”

With only about 900 bears remaining, the Southern Beaufort Sea population is the most imperiled polar bear population in the world. Scientists have determined that the population cannot sustain any injuries or deaths from oil and gas activities.

The heavy equipment used in seismic exploration and drilling activities can crush polar bears in their dens or scare denning polar bears out too early, leaving cubs to die of exposure or abandonment by their mothers. The noise generated by routine oil operations can disturb essential polar bear behavior and increase stress on the animals’ when food may be scarce.

Walruses are also highly sensitive to human disturbance. Without summer sea ice for resting, walrus mothers and calves have been forced to come ashore, where they are vulnerable to being trampled to death in stampedes when the animals are startled by noise.

The final rule, issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, fails to properly consider the harm oil and gas activities can do to polar bears’ ability to hunt, den and travel or how reduced sea ice adversely affects polar bear and walrus behavior. The rule also improperly discounts the chances these animals will be killed or seriously injured by the permitted activities.

In addition to seismic blasting, the rule covers construction and operation of roads, pipelines, runways and other support facilities. It also covers well drilling, drill rig transport, truck and helicopter traffic and other activities.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act generally prohibits killing, harming or harassing a marine mammal. The statute allows the federal government to authorize certain industrial activities to harm and harass marine mammals, as long as such activities will take only a “small number” of animals and have no more than a “negligible impact” on the population. The previous five-year authorization expired this week.

Today’s authorization covers existing and planned activities across a wide swath of Alaska’s Arctic, including 7.9 million acres in the Beaufort Sea, and onshore activities from Point Barrow to the western boundary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It includes the Willow development project that the Center and allies have challenged in court, and which the Biden administration submitted a brief defending.

RSPacificWalrus_BillHickey_USFWS_FPWC.jpg
Pacific walrus. Bill Hickey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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