With Gulf Oil Spill, New Fears About Shell Oil’s Arctic Drilling
May 17, 2010
(ChattahBox)—The oil industry, including BP Oil assured the federal government and any naysayers, that with new safety precautions, updated technology and a fail-safe blowout preventer, major oil spills from offshore drilling were nearly impossible. So much for that. As the disastrous Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill has shown us, nothing is foolproof. Now, residents of Alaska near the Chukchi Sea are pointing to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and are questioning anew, the decision to allow Shell Oil to drill in the sensitive and remote area, far removed from help and needed resources to deal with a potential disaster.
According to a report by the Associated Press, native Alaskans and environmental groups are now pushing to stop Shell’s offshore drilling plans in the Arctic. The controversial federal Minerals Management Service agency already approved Shell’s drilling plans. And Shell oil is assuring Alaskans that they are prepared for a spill, and the company also insists that comparing its project to Deepwater Horizon is not justified.
Still, doubts and concerns remain about the remote location:
“The nearest Coast Guard base is Kodiak, more than 900 air miles away. Nearby coastal communities such as Point Hope are tiny and lack deep-water harbors and large airports. Cleanup assets are stationed at Prudhoe Bay, hundreds of miles away on Alaska’s north coast. Unlike at Prince William Sound, where more than 300 fishing boats are under contract to lay down boom if another supertanker hits a reef like the Exxon Valdez, there’s no one to call for local assistance. If a blowout occurred late in the summer, it could be impossible for another rig to arrive and drill a relief well before the water freezes, leaving a well to flow until it plugged itself or spill response vessels reached it the following summer, according to drilling opponents.”
But a number of environmental groups, already lost a court battle challenging the basis of the Minerals Management Service’s approval of Shell’s offshore drilling plan. The Ninth US Circuit Appeals Court unanimously ruled that the federal agency met its legal obligations, when considering the potential impact to wildlife and the environment.
The environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Ocean Conservancy and Native Village of Point Hope, are not about to give up so easily. They issued a joint statement, pledging to continue with their plans to stop Shell Oil’s drilling plans on its Beaufort Sea and Chukchi Sea leases:
“Because the court was evaluating a decision made before the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico happened, we believe that the new issues this incident has brought to light offer even more evidence that Shell must not proceed with plans for exploratory drilling in the Arctic’s Chukchi and Beaufort Seas this summer. With 48 days to go before Shell is slated to move forward, we will continue to press our request to the Obama administration to reevaluate its approval of the Shell drilling plans in light of the Gulf spill and to suspend drilling that we knew was risky even before the massive failure in the gulf once again exposed that drilling is indeed a dirty and dangerous business.”
If all goes according to plan, Shell Oil could begin drilling in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea by July.