Interior officials: Drilling won't harm polar bears

Posted: Friday, January 18, 2008

WASHINGTON - The directors of two Interior Department agencies said Thursday they're confident oil and gas exploration in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska can proceed without threatening polar bears that depend on the sea ice.

The officials appeared before the House special committee on global warming that is examining why the department is postponing a decision on whether to further protect the bear, at the same time it is proceeding with oil lease sales in the Alaska sea.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the committee's ranking Republican, said while "there may be a problem with the polar bear population" he is convinced that oil and gas development and bear protection can coincide.

"This process is going along fairly well," he said.

Randall Luthi, director of the Minerals Management Service, which is conducting the oil lease sales, said the bear already is adequately protected against harm from oil and gas development under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. And he said the lease sales include provisions to mitigate the impact on the bear.

"We believe adequate protection exists," said Luthi.

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