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Bush officials say oil drilling will not harm polar bears

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Jan 18, 2008
US officials defended plans for oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea off northwestern Alaska, telling lawmakers that it would not harm polar bears, already threatened by global warming.

Randall Luthi, director of the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service, which sells oil drilling rights, told Congress Thursday that the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act provides adequate safeguards to polar bears from oil exploration accidents such as oil spills.

In addition, he said, contracts with oil companies include measures to minimize the impact such activities can have on the polar bear population.

"We believe adequate protection exists," he told the House of Representatives special committee on global warming.

The US government estimates crude oil reserves under the Chukchi Sea at 15 billion barrels.

Representative Edward Markey demanded polar bears be declared a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act due to global warming prior to the sale of oil drilling rights in the Chukchi Sea, scheduled for February 6.

If not, "we will be accelerating the day when the polar bear will be extinct," he said.

Markey has proposed legislation that would require the government to make a decision on the polar bear's status before opening its habitat to drilling.

But Dale Hall, the director of US Fish and Wildlife Services, refused to commit to making the decision prior to February 6.

"It's not just making the decision, it's making it clear," he said.

Hall announced January 9 he had postponed a decision on polar bears up to a month more.

Such a decision would be the first time the administration has linked a species' threat of extinction with climate change.

A US government expert on polar bears said that the melting of sea ice due to global warming would cause a two-thirds drop in the world polar bear population by 2050, and named the Chukchi Sea as one of the most threatened polar bear habitats.

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Unconventional Natural Gas Reservoir In Pennsylvania Poised To Dramatically Increase US Production
Union Town PA (SPX) Jan 18, 2008
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