One year after the BP tragedy – No more business as usual

Apr 20, 2011

One year after the worst oil spill disaster in U.S. history, there are still many legislative, regulatory and other changes which need to be made before oil drilling in “frontier” offshore areas like  deepwater in the Gulf of Mexico and  the Arctic Ocean is allowed to proceed, according to The Wilderness Society.

“Without needed protections in place, a major spill in the Arctic Ocean could result in destruction of critical marine and coastal resources,” according to Lois Epstein, a licensed engineer who serves as Arctic Program Director at The Wilderness Society and serves on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement’s Offshore Energy Safety Advisory Committee.   “At a minimum, Congress needs to step forward and increase liability and financial responsibility requirements and regulators need to issue important new regulations before allowing offshore drilling in frontier areas.  Tragically, the offshore drilling industry continues to pressure the federal government to issue its permits yesterday without needed safety and environmental protections in place.”

Prior to the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion which occurred on April 20, 2010, Shell planned to move forward with drilling in the Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort Sea last summer.   Due to problems with its federal air permit application, Shell’s Beaufort Sea drilling will not occur before 2012 at the earliest.   A recent BOEMRE analysis of the Chukchi Sea leasing area showed that a well blowout could take months to plug and could spill from 58-90 million gallons depending on the type of relief well drilling capacity utilized.

“Conditions in the Arctic Ocean are some of the most extreme on Earth,” said Epstein. “High winds, fog, and shifting sea ice are just the beginning.  Additionally, unlike the Gulf of Mexico, the nearest Coast Guard facilities which could respond to a major accident are hundreds of miles away.”

Epstein added that “there still is no proven method for cleaning up a spill in icy Arctic waters.  In addition to The Wilderness Society’s spill prevention concerns, cleanup techniques need to be improved and proven before proceeding with Arctic Ocean drilling.”