Loath to go too many days without flouting some kind of law, the Bush administration last week granted permission for seven oil companies to harass and potentially harm polar bears while drilling for oil and gas in Alaska's Chukchi Sea, provided they do so unintentionally. Polar bears were just recently classifed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, an obvious lapse in judgment the administration apparently rushed to rectify. The "final rule" (.pdf) states that "The Fish and Wildlife Service has developed regulations that authorize the nonlethal, incidental, unintentional take of small numbers of Pacific walruses and polar bears." To "take", as defined in the document, means "to harass, hunt, capture, or kill" a marine mammal, or to attempt to do so.
So, if I read this correctly, Fish and Wildlife has just authorized oil companies to accidentally harass, hunt, and capture polar bears. While no extraction is yet underway, it seems fair to conclude that the government is covering its legal backside in anticipation of the inevitable havoc that seven companies' worth of oil and gas exploration will wreak.
Which would make sense, if the agency were not also claiming that the exploration won't cause any trouble at all. Speaking to an AP reporter, Fish and Wildlife director H. Dale Hall insisted that "the oil and gas industry in operating under the kind of rules they have operated under for 15 years has not been a threat to the species...It was the ice melting and the habitat going away that was a threat to the species over everything else."
But as the article continues, "exploring in the Chukchi Sea's 29.7 million acres will require as many as five drill ships, one or two icebreakers, a barge, a tug and two helicopter flights per day, according to the government. Oil companies will also be making hundreds of miles of ice roads and trails along the coastline."
All of which I'm sure has nothing to do with "the ice melting and the habitat going away."