Photo: Himmelrich PR, flickr.
Will Shell be approved to start oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean this summer?
The threat of offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean has taken an ominous turn with the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell reaffirming a controversial lease sale for the Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi Sea, opening the door for Shell to drill for oil off Alaska’s coast this summer.
Despite an estimate by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that there is a 75 percent chance of one or more major oil spills if drilling and production occurs in the Chukchi Sea, the Obama administration continues to support Arctic Ocean drilling. Jewell issued a statement at the end of March saying the Arctic Ocean “is an important component of the administration’s national energy strategy.”
In January, the administration took the important step of withdrawing some areas of the Arctic Ocean from future leasing, which will benefit marine mammal habitat and important subsistence resources. Those areas include a biological hotspot known as the Hanna Shoal, an important feeding area for walrus. But drilling anywhere in the Beaufort or Chukchi seas presents extreme risks.
“While the administration has taken significant steps to protect valuable wildlife and subsistence-use areas in the Arctic Ocean, we are disappointed with the administration’s decision to reaffirm the Chukchi sea leases,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska regional director for The Wilderness Society.
“With a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill occurring if drilling moves forward, the Arctic Ocean -- including the withdrawn areas -- and its sensitive coastlines stand a significant chance of being damaged.
“Given that fact, and the adverse climate impacts from drilling and burning Arctic Ocean oil, allowing drilling in the Arctic Ocean would place sensitive areas and Arctic communities at unnecessary risk, and is in conflict with the administration’s climate goals.”
Before Shell can drill this summer, the company must obtain BOEM’s approval of the company’s exploration plan -- a decision that will be made by May 10 -- and individual drilling permits, but reaffirmation of the leases allows the company to put forward its plans to drill this year. The Wilderness Society is asking its supporters to weigh in and ask BOEM to stop this brewing disaster.
The Wilderness Society and 13 other conservation and Alaska Native groups sued the federal government over the 2008 lease sale. In January 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the sale unlawful because the Department of the Interior failed to adequately analyze the potentially dramatic environmental effects of the sale before offering the leases.
Under orders by the court, the government re-analyzed the sale and issued a supplemental environmental impact statement in February, concluding that drilling in the Chukchi Sea would have significant negative and long-lasting effects on the Arctic Ocean’s waters, animals and communities.
“We hope the administration will take a long, hard look at Shell’s exploration plan, the company’s disastrous 2012 drilling season and the potential climate effects of Arctic Ocean development, and deny drilling this year,” Whittington-Evans said.