Italian fossil Eni S.p.A. could begin drilling exploratory Arctic oil wells as early as this month under a permit issued earlier this week by the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).
And Eni’s wells could be the first of many if the U.S. Congress passes a tax reform bill that includes a controversial provision to open the environmentally fragile Arctic National Wildlife Range (ANWR) for drilling operations.
“There is widespread opposition to offshore drilling in the Arctic among conservationists and some native Alaskans, who fear it could impact marine animals that migrate through the area, including bowhead whales that subsistence hunters rely on for survival,” InsideClimate News reports.
“Scientific research also points to the need to keep most fossil fuels in the ground to avert the worst consequences of climate change; a 2015 study in the journal Nature identified oil reserves in the Arctic as unburnable if the world hopes to keep global warming to within 2.0°C of pre-industrial times.”
Mark Fesmire, director of BSEE’s Arctic region, claimed the drilling plan was approved after “”a thorough and complete review of Eni’s well design, testing procedures, and safety protocol.” He added that “exploration must be conducted safely, and responsibly in relation to the Arctic environment and we will continue to engage Eni as they move forward with drilling its exploratory well.”
But Kristen Monsell of the Center for Biological Diversity called the exploratory drilling “an accident waiting to happen”, adding that “the Trump administration is risking a major oil spill by letting this foreign corporation drill in the unforgiving waters off Alaska. Offshore drilling threatens coastal communities and wildlife and will only push us deeper into the climate crisis.”
Eni’s plan calls for it to reach federal waters by drilling more than six miles from Spy Island, an artificial island in the Beaufort Sea that already holds oil wells and production facilities. The company “plans to use extended-reach drilling techniques to reach submerged federal lands, a complex technology that allows producers to reach deposits in environmentally sensitive areas,” Grist reports.
The related regulatory attack on the ANWR is contained in a much wider piece of legislation that was held back from a Senate vote late Thursday, with Republican leadership “still scrambling to win over enough votes to pass their massive tax code overhaul,” Politico reports. With tax reform dominating the headlines, ANWR champion Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) warned that an iconic, sensitive landscape could be lost without legislators or the public fully realizing it.
“It is critically important and I don’t think anybody knows it is stuck in a tax bill,” she said. “It’s been around for thousands of years, and for no good reason we’re going to change it? Is there no such thing as a special place?”