Shell has moved a step closer to exploratory drilling in the environmentally sensitive Chukchi Sea, 70 miles northwest of Wainwright, Alaska, with a conditional approval for six test wells that has earned the Obama administration a deluge of criticism from U.S. environmental groups.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) based the conditional approval on its new safety regulations for drilling in the U.S. portion of the Arctic Ocean. But enviros “point to an analysis by BOEM itself that showed a 75% chance of a spill greater than 1,000 barrels should an oil company like Shell discover and fully produce oil in the Chukchi leases,” Think Progress reports. “They also note that the closest Coast Guard station that could respond to a spill is more than 1,000 miles away.”
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In a statement, BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said the agency took “a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea, recognizing the significant environmental, social, and ecological resources in the region and establishing high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, our Arctic communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives.”
But Rebecca Noblin of the Center for Biological Diversity countered that “Arctic drilling is a step in the exact wrong direction. Scientists tell us that if we want to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we need to keep Arctic oil in the ground. Arctic drilling gives us a 75% chance of an oil spill and a 100% chance of climate catastrophe. Interior should send Shell packing.”
Environmental groups recalled Shell’s previous, disastrous attempts at Arctic drilling, with Friends of the Earth calling this year’s plan “the largest, loudest, and dirtiest exploration plan ever proposed in the American Arctic Ocean.” 350.org co-founder Jamie Henn tweeted that “Arctic drilling is climate denial, plain and simple. Shameful decision by [President Barack Obama] to allow Shell to drill.”
The conditional approval is not the final step in the process for Shell, Atkin writes. “Shell still needs seven more permits. It also needs to resolve a dispute with the city of Seattle, which is fighting the company’s plan to use the Port of Seattle to dock its Arctic drilling rigs.”
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