Shell Arctic offshore drilling: Wilderness Society joins lawsuit to stop dangerous plan

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

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The Wilderness Society has joined a coalition of Alaska Native and conservation groups in a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s decision to allow Shell to begin offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean next summer.

Despite U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert Papp telling Congress this summer that the federal government has “zero” spill-response capability in the Arctic, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) on Aug. 4 issued conditional approval for Shell Offshore Inc. to begin drilling up to four exploration wells in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea in 2012.

Earthjustice, on behalf of The Wilderness Society, the Native Village of Point Hope, Alaska, and 11  conservation groups recently initiated litigation in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals challenging BOEMRE’s decision to allow risky oil drilling in the Beaufort Sea.

As a recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey makes clear, basic scientific information about nearly every aspect of the Arctic Ocean ecosystem is missing. This lack of data makes it impossible to adequately assess the risks and effects of drilling on wildlife and people in the Arctic. As a result, it is impossible to make informed, science-based decisions.

At risk are fragile marine ecosystems and the charismatic wildlife that depend on Arctic waters, including large walrus populations; ocean-dependent polar bears; several species of seals;  numerous whales, including humpback and beluga; and thousands of sea and coastal birds.

“Approving oil drilling in the remote and icy waters of the Arctic Ocean at this time is reckless,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska regional director with The Wilderness Society. “This region is home to endangered and threatened polar bears, bowhead whales, seals, fish and birds. Alaska Natives in the region rely on these resources. Shell has no proven technologies to clean up an oil spill in these waters. Scientists agree, and so do we, that we need a better understanding of the impacts of an oil spill and the ability to respond effectively before we take the risk to drill.”

Also party to the lawsuit are Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Oceana, Pacific Environment, REDOIL and the Sierra Club.

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