Alaska Sues to Remove Federal Drilling Moratorium

Published October 4, 2010

The State of Alaska has filed suit in a federal district court requesting injunctive relief and petitioning for review of the federal moratorium on Arctic Outer Continental Shelf oil and natural gas exploration.

A previous moratorium had temporarily banned OCS exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, but it did not apply to the Arctic regions until U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar verbally extended the ban during a September 3 visit to Anchorage.

Notice Requirements Ignored
In a September 9 press conference, Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan said the Department of the Interior broke federal law by enacting the moratorium without providing a written statement of facts justifying the decision and by announcing the decision without a prior comment period or meeting with Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) first.

“We, today, are going to hold [the federal government] responsible for following their own laws,” Sullivan said. “It would be a very cruel irony for Alaska to be illegally bootstrapped into a moratorium when the Gulf moratorium expires in November.”

Unexpected About-Face
The Department of the Interior had approved permits and litigated on behalf of Arctic OCS drilling as recently as May 6, Sullivan noted, but the agency issued a press release later that month including Alaskan waters in the list of banned drill sites.

Sullivan said Salazar refused to meet with Parnell when Salazar made a quick trip to Alaska during the first week of September, yet verbally confirmed the moratorium to the press before leaving the state.

“They literally did an about-face on the issue,” Sullivan said.

The Interior Department has 60 days to respond to the suit, and Parnell said he hoped the matter would be addressed in time to resume exploration in 2011.

Kirsten Adams ([email protected]) is an investigative reporter for, a nonprofit news Web site and accessory to the Alaska Policy Forum and the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. This article first appeared on the Alaska Watchdog Web site and is reprinted with permission.