The state of Alaska Thursday brought a lawsuit against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a federal court seeking to overturn the federal moratorium on offshore drilling in Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

In U.S. District Court in Alaska, the state is arguing that Interior acted arbitrarily and capriciously and violated federal law when it failed to consult with state officials prior to imposing the ban; neglected to properly consider the significant economic impact of a drilling moratorium; and failed to issued a written decision explaining the basis for the moratorium, according to Gov. Sean Parnell’s office.

“Federal law requires consultation with affected states and a consideration of how an agency action will impact the economy,” said Attorney General Dan Sullivan. “Here the Department of the Interior did not take these steps before it issued the moratorium,” he added.

“Development of Alaska’s OCS resources is of critical importance to Alaska’s future and the economic and security interests of the United States,” Parnell said Thursday.

While oil service companies have successfully challenged the moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), which was imposed following the Deepwater Horizon explosion in late April, this is the first time that the moratorium on drilling Alaska’s offshore waters — the Chukchi and Beaufort seas — has been challenged (see Daily GPI, Sept. 2).

In May President Obama halted or suspended drilling or planned drilling in the GOM and offshore Alaska and Virginia (see Daily GPI, May 28). On top of that, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in July 2009 concluded that the environmental reviews conducted for some leases in Alaska’s OCS were insufficient.

And despite Shell Oil Co.’s attempt to assuage Interior’s concerns in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon incident, the producer’s plans to drill at least three exploratory wells this summer were shelved and may be jeopardized next year as well (see Daily GPI, May 20).

Within the past year Alaska has been actively involved in challenging environmental groups’ efforts to shut down OCS development of energy development along the state’s coasts. Most recently, the state said it litigated a case in the same federal court in Alaska to “significantly” narrow the court’s injunction against exploration activities on oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea, Parnell said.

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