The state of Alaska on Thursday filed a motion in federal court to intervene alongside President Donald Trump in a lawsuit brought by conservation groups seeking to prevent drilling in the U.S. Arctic Ocean.
“In filing this motion, our objective is to make sure that the state of Alaska has future development opportunities in the Arctic (federal waters),” Gov. Bill Walker said in a prepared statement Thursday.
Trump signed an order in April designed to reopen federal waters of the Chukchi Sea and major portions of the Beaufort Sea for potential lease sales to exploration companies.
Trump modified a December executive order from his predecessor, Barack Obama, that prohibited new leases in the vast majority of U.S. Arctic offshore waters.
Several conservation groups brought the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Alaska in May, arguing that Trump’s order was unlawful and that agencies could not adopt it. The suit named as defendants Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
The conservation groups included Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands, and the Center for Biological Diversity. The groups said the waters support Alaska Native subsistence activities and species listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, such as polar bears.
Federal agencies have indicated that as much as 40 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable conventional oil, and more than 200 trillion cubic feet of conventional natural gas, exist in the region, according to the state.
The state argues that development in federal waters – starting 3 miles offshore – will support the Alaska economy by encouraging development in state-leased waters along the coast and by contributing more oil to the trans-Alaska pipeline.
If allowed to intervene, the state will join the federal government in its effort to have the case dismissed. The American Petroleum Institute has already intervened on the federal government’s side.
The state plans to auction off leases to explorers in state waters of the Beaufort Sea this winter, the motion says.
“The uncertainty of the availability of adjacent federal lands may impact the success of that sale,” the state’s motion says.