Lawsuits filed to stop McCovey project

Posted: Wednesday, December 20, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A lawsuit was filed by seven Inupiat Eskimos who are seeking to prevent exploratory drilling on the offshore McCovey Prospect in the Beaufort Sea.

The lawsuit, filed Friday, contends that the federal Minerals Management Service approved the McCovey exploration plan in violation of federal laws and regulations.

''We believe that any offshore drilling activity in the Arctic Ocean is a threat to the health of the natural resources we depend on for survival,'' said Billy Tegoseak, spokesman for the seven plaintiffs. ''We see no national security need to explore for fossil fuels in the Arctic Ocean at the expense of jeopardizing the health of all segments of Arctic life.''

Officials with the Minerals Management Service said Monday they had just received a copy of the lawsuit and could not comment.

The environmental group Greenpeace filed a similar lawsuit Tuesday in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

''The lawsuit is about stopping global warning at its source and preventing irresponsible oil exploration and drilling in the Arctic Ocean,'' spokeswoman Melanie Duchin said in a news release.

Phillips Alaska Inc. plans to drill one exploratory well from an ice island at the McCovey Prospect, located 12 miles north of Prudhoe Bay.

Phillips and Chevron hold an interest in McCovey. Calgary-based Alberta Energy Inc. has agreed to earn an equal interest in the prospect by funding exploration, slated to begin this winter.

The plaintiffs compared McCovey to BP's Northstar project, which has fallen well short of proving to regulators that it could clean up an oil spill in broken ice.

But Phillips spokeswoman Dawn Patience said McCovey would consist of a single exploratory well and cannot be compared with Northstar, which features the first subsea pipeline in the Alaska Arctic. She said the drilling at McCovey would be conducted only when the ice is solid.

Should McCovey turn out to be a commercial find, the oil companies would have to apply for a series of additional permits and go through a complete environmental study, Patience said.

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