TO: American Petroleum Institute Board of Directors/CEO/CFO
FROM: Chief Counsel to the American Petroleum Institute
RE: Potential Legal Challenges to BLM Decision re Drilling in ANWR
DATE: 20 Dec 2006
(a) Under which laws could environmentalists and other opponents challenge private oil
exploration at ANWR? Specify which claims they are likely to make, and, given the
facts above, discuss their chances of success.
(b) What difference, if any, would it make if the polar bear were listed as threatened?
(a) There are a number of legal challenges that can be expected regarding environmental concerns over exploration of ANWR. They range from obvious challenges, such as compatibility with National Wildlife Refuge purposes, Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) protections, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance, ambiguity over lead agency status within the Department of the Interior, speculation on the Wilderness Act, and enforceability of the International Polar Bear Agreement, to more subtle and nuanced legal challenges involving Section 311 and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), dealing with oil spills and wetland protections respectively, and Native Lands issues.
(b) If the polar bear were listed as a threatened species, the voracity of a number of these legal challenges would be increased significantly.
Statement of Facts
The debate continues as to whether to allow energy development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Sharp increases in recent energy prices, terrorist attacks, and energy infrastructure damage from hurricanes have intensified debate. Few onshore
Opponents of drilling argue that intrusions on such a remarkable ecosystem are not justifiable under any circumstances; that oil found would provide little energy security and could be replaced by cost-effective alternatives, including conservation; and that job claims are exaggerated. They maintain that development’s footprints would have a greater impact than is implied by a limit on total acreage.
The Refuge, especially the coastal plain, is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. The numbers of polar bears, caribou, grizzly bears, wolves, migratory birds, and other species in ANWR has led some to call the area “
The legal history of the ANWR area, consistent with the current debate, is politically charged. In 1957, an application was filed to the withdraw lands in northeastern
In 1971, Congress enacted the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act to resolve all Native aboriginal land claims against the
The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 renamed the Range as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and expanded it to include another 9.2 million acres. Though Section 702(3) designated much of the original Refuge as wilderness, the coastal plain and the newer portions of the Refuge did not receive wilderness status. Instead, Congress postponed decisions on the development or further protection of the coastal plain. Section 1002 directed a study of ANWR’s “coastal plain” and its resources. Section 1003 of ANILCA prohibited oil and gas development in the entire Refuge unless authorized by an act of Congress.
1. The most obvious potential challenge arises from the order that Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decide whether to authorize drilling in ANWR. Opponents are likely to take issue with the designation of BLM as the lead agency in the ANWR decision. Under the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act it is the Secretary of the Interior acting “through the US Fish and Wildlife Service” who administers Refuge lands. This language was added by Congress in 1976 to ensure that management of refuges could not be assigned to other agencies. Under current law, the Director of the FWS may approve an activity only if it is compatible with the purposes for which the System and the particular unit were created. The Refuge Administration Act does not close refuges to possible oil and gas leasing, but many individual units are withdrawn and leasing is rare.
Although BLM, another agency also in the Department of the Interior, is often the mineral development manager for the
Given that there are no statutory requirements that mineral leasing be through BLM, and that since 1976 there is a statutory requirement that management of refuges be by the Secretary through FWS, it is not clear by what authority BLM is the lead agency with respect to leasing in refuges. Even if the Refuge Administration Act could be interpreted as only addressing the surface management of refuges, one could ask whether the approval of the Secretary of leasing in refuges must be given through FWS, with the concurrence of the Director of FWS.
Reducing the role of FWS by placing BLM in charge of the leasing program for ANWR could separate the mineral development aspects from the biological/wildlife purposes and the expertise of FWS personnel, possibly resulting in the coastal plain of ANWR receiving less protection than lands in other refuges. It is difficult to forecast whether or not congress is prepared to legislate in this direction, but it is clearly possible, and might best represent the American Petroleum Institutes’ interests.
2. A second obvious and likely challenge is based on the argument that oil drilling is not an intended or compatible use for National Wildlife Refuges. Under current law for the management of national wildlife refuges, and under 43 C.F.R. §3101.5-3 for Alaskan refuges specifically, an activity may be allowed in a refuge only if it is compatible with the purposes of the particular Refuge and with those of the Refuge System as a whole. New proposed legislation states that the “energy leasing program and activities in the coastal plain are deemed to be compatible with the purposes for which ANWR was established and that no further findings or decisions are required to implement this determination,” apparently eliminating the usual compatibility determination processes. However, the extent of “activities” that might be compatible is debatable and could include support activities, such as construction and operation of port facilities, staging areas, and personnel centers. These support activities could trigger legal challenges and stand reasonable chances of success given the history of ANWR, and the history and intent of the National Wildlife Refuge System coupled with public attachment.
3. BLM approved oil exploration and drilling in the 1002 Area of ANWR without further hearing, investigation, or public comment. BLM stated that the concerns of environmentalists rely on outdated data and, regardless of environmental impact, established a linkage between foreign oil dependence and national sustainable development. This decision will likely face legal challenges under NEPA.
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 requires the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) to examine major federal actions with significant effects on the environment, and to provide public involvement in agency decisions. The last full EIS examining development in ANWR was completed in 1987. Some assert that a new EIS is needed to support development now. NEPA requires an EIS to analyze an array of alternatives, including a “no action” alternative. Some development supporters want the process streamlined, in light of past analyses and to hasten production. Opponents, and NEPA supporters, argue that the 19-year gap and changed circumstances since the last analysis require an update, and stress flaws in the 1987 FLEIS.
One version of proposed new legislation to address this concern would deem the 1987 FLEIS to satisfy NEPA requirements with respect to pre-lease activities and the development of leasing regulations, and require the Secretary to prepare an EIS of all other actions before the first lease sale. Alternatives would be limited to two choices, a preferred leasing action and a “single leasing alternative.” Compliance would satisfy all requirements to analyze the environmental effects of proposed leasing. Another House bill was essentially identical. A Senate bill has similar provisions, but did not expressly require an EIS for leasing.
4. Perhaps the most volatile issues, and the most likely source of legal challenges, are the protected, endangered, and threatened wildlife issues. The list of charismatic species inhabiting ANWR is indeed impressive. Some, including the polar bear, are facing reductions in numbers globally. The prospect of one of these charismatic species, most likely the polar bear, being listed as “threatened or endangered” under the ESA is, at minimum, significantly problematic.
Concern regarding the protection of marine mammals, including the polar bear, grew in the 1960s. In 1972, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was enacted. In 1973, the
Critics assert that oil and gas development in the
All of this is of course a moot point if the polar bear is listed as threatened or endangered under ESA. Currently, only two other species are listed under the ESA in ANWR, the peregrine falcon and the bowhead whale, neither of which would be significantly affected by development. The polar bear, on the other hand, is known to den in the 2002 area of ANWR. In that case, sections 9 and 10 of ESA would come into play, specifically provisions that prevent the taking or harming of species, including acts which actually kills or injures wildlife such as significant habitat modification or degradation that significantly impairs essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, or sheltering. It would be difficult to prove that infrastructure development for oil and gas drilling would in no way modify or degrade habitat.
5. Other more peripheral legal challenges potentially exist, among them the aforementioned Clean Water Act as it relates to oil spills and wetlands, the Wilderness Act and possible wilderness designation actions for the 2002 section, and native lands issues. However, as these are far less likely to arise, they are not covered in detail in this memo.
The American Petroleum Institute should anticipate legal challenges to oil and gas drilling in ANWR as described above. In efforts to keep legal options “open” and protect interests, it may be advisable to study proposed legislation that takes favorable positions as regards items 1-3 and marshal lobbying efforts accordingly and as appropriate. In terms of item 4, it may be prudent to commission scientific studies that demonstrate polar bear resilience to human activity and adaptability to various habitat types, as well as build alliances with other industries that are favorable to updating ESA. It may also be advisable to consider a legal defense fund.
 CRS Issue Brief IB10136, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR): Controversies for the 109th Congress, by M. Lynne Corn, Bernard A. Gelb, and Pamela Baldwin.
 Opposition to drilling in ANWR arguments can be found variously at http://www.alaskawild.org/ , http://www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/canam/washington/shared_env/default-en.asp , http://www.protectthearctic.com/ or http://www.tws.org/OurIssues/Arctic/index.cfm?TopLevel=Home
 Basic information on the Refuge can be found in CRS Report RL31278, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Background and Issues, by M. Lynne Corn, coordinator, (hereafter cited as CRS Report RL31278).
 ANCSA, P.L. 92-203
 ANILCA, P.L.96-487, 94 Stat. 2371
 16 U.S.C. § 668dd(a)(1).
 P.L. 94-223, 90 Stat. 199.
 16 U.S.C. 668dd(d).
 See Secretarial Order 3087, December 2, 1982, as amended February 7, 1983 (48 Fed. Reg. 8983).
 See 43 C.F.R. § 3101.5-1 and 43 C.F.R. § 3101.5-4.
 This observation and resulting legal question/argument from CRS Report Legal Issues Related to Proposed Drilling for Oil and Gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by Pamela Baldwin, Legislative Attorney, American Law Division, 2002, p5.
 16 U.S.C.§668dd
 Section 3(c) of H.R. 5429, §3(c) of H.R. 2863, and §4001(c) of S. 1932
 NEPA, P.L. 91-190; 43 U.S.C. §§4321-4347
 Section 3(c) of H.R. 5429
 H.R. 2863 (Division C, §3(c))
 S. 1932 (§4001(c))
 Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, T.I.A.S. No. 8409, 27 U.S.T. 3918 (Nov.
 Draft Report to Congress on Status of
International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, Prepared by
 Donald C. Baur, Reconciling Polar Bear Protection under
International Agreement for the Conservation of Polar Bears, 2 ANIMAL LAW 9, 85
 50 CFR § 17.3 (1994)
 More information available in these subjects upon request.