WASHINGTON – The Wilderness Society today opposed a new plan from Shell Oil to construct an exploratory drilling well off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the Beaufort Sea.
The proposal from Shell was submitted to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM), and does not include previous requests to also drill in the neighboring Chukchi Sea.
“Shell’s narrowed drilling proposal is only superficially appealing and should be rejected by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management,” said Lois Epstein, an engineer and Arctic Program Director at The Wilderness Society. “The regulatory and enforcement changes needed are not fully in place to ensure that blowouts and spills will not occur and impact highly sensitive Arctic coastline.”
The Wilderness Society argues that the BOEM needs to require Shell to submit new exploration and contingency plans prior to drilling in this sensitive area. “Following the Gulf spill, it would be irresponsible and scientifically unjustifiable for the Bureau to short-circuit its reviews of drilling proposals, especially in the highly sensitive and pristine Arctic environment,” said Epstein.
The proposed drill site would be in shallow water, off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – a home to large populations of seals, walruses and polar bears. The waters of the Beaufort Sea are the fall migration route for thousands of endangered bowhead whales which would be at risk from a blowout or oil spill similar to the BP Gulf disaster earlier this year.
“We are glad that Shell has apparently tabled its plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea,” said Epstein, “but the same problems – untested cleanup methods, frigid, ice-filled waters, fog, and powerful winds – affect drilling in the Beaufort Sea as well.”
Shell’s announced plans coincided with the release of a draft report from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Commission that details the unique and difficult challenges of cleaning up oil spills in the Arctic Ocean.