Sensitive Alaska wetlands spared from drilling plan — for now

In good news for conservationists, the Department of Interior has announced willingness to exclude the sensitive Teshekpuk Lake wetlands from a region of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that it wants to open to oil and natural-gas drilling. The move has little to do with concern for ecosystem health and much to do with getting the drilling plan past the U.S. District Court of Alaska that blocked the lease sale earlier this month; the court said the feds hadn’t adequately assessed the environmental impact of the proposed drilling. DOI is asking the court to allow a sale of nearly 8 million acres to go forward next week, while 373,000 acres near the lake — which the feds believe may harbor 2 billion barrels of oil — undergo further environmental review. The Teshekpuk Lake area is a major stopping point for migratory birds and caribou. The Bush administration now must wait for the court’s decision on this latest plan.