Judge Rules Best Interest Finding for Beaufort Sea Leases Unconstitutional
A superior court judge ruled that the public will have the opportunity to participate in DNR’s decisions about whether other uses, such as subsistence hunting and fishing, and the public’s resources are jeopardized at each phase of oil and gas development in the Beaufort Sea.
The decision comes in a constitutional lawsuit challenging the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Best Interest Finding for the Beaufort Sea Areawide Lease Sale where the Court ordered that all phases of the lease sale (i.e., lease sale, exploration, development, production, and transportation) must be analyzed by DNR to determine whether they are in the best interests of the State. Superior Court Judge Peter Ashman determined that DNR’s current practice to analyze whether the lease sale is in the best interest of the State at the leasing stage only, which is before the impacts of exploration, development, production, and transportation are known, is unconstitutional.
“This decision finally allows Inupiat voices to be heard before financial interests affect our way of life,” Chairman of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), Inupiat and Kaktovik resident Robert Thompson stated. “The Beaufort Sea Areawide leases sold in Alaska’s Northern waters to the highest bidder do not address the concerns of those of us who reside here. Before this decision, we thought we would have no more say about the effect of major projects on the people affected and who reside here. This is a good decision for the Inupiat.”
“This case demonstrates that the framers of our constitution were forward thinking and knew that development for the maximum benefit of the people of Alaska requires a balance with conservation and the public interest,” said Vicki Clark, Legal Director for Trustees for Alaska. “This decision resurrects that constitutional mandate.”