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Obama Administration Clears Way for Wave of Industrial Offshore Oil Drilling in Arctic
Groups Appeal One Arctic Drilling Permit as EPA Issues Another
SAN FRANCISCO - On Monday, The Center for Biological Diversity and allies appealed the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to issue Clean Air Act permits allowing Shell to drill for oil in the Arctic. The corporation’s Discoverer drillship plans to sink exploration wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, off Alaska’s north coast, beginning in July 2012. The permits appealed would authorize indefinite drilling operations and cover the Discoverer and a fleet of support vessels, including two icebreakers, an oil-spill response fleet and a supply ship. These large-scale industrial operations emit tons of pollutants into the air and water and pose grave dangers to the pristine Arctic. The appeal asks the Environmental Appeals Board to prohibit unlawful air pollution from Shell’s drilling — pollution that will potentially endanger human health and dirty the clean air of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.
“These permits mark the start of full-scale industrial oil exploitation of the extremely sensitive Arctic. Oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean comes with unacceptable risks of spills that could have catastrophic impacts on Arctic wildlife and the communities that rely on the Arctic environment,” said Center attorney Vera Pardee. “We witnessed devastating damage from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill; the turbulent, icy, dark and remote conditions of the Arctic would make cleanup there even harder — next to impossible. Drilling in Arctic waters is an extremely bad idea.”
This is the second time the EPA has issued Clean Air Act permits for the Discoverer. The Center and allies successfully appealed the first set of permits, issued in 2010, and the Environmental Appeals Board found them unlawful and remanded them to the EPA for revision. “But the new permits violate the Clean Air Act once again, allowing Shell to emit harmful pollutants beyond legal limits,” said Pardee. “They authorize the company to discharge large amounts of nitrogen dioxide that can cause serious illness — impaired lung function and respiratory disease.”
The appeal comes on the heels of the EPA issuing air permits for yet another Shell drillship, the Kulluk, on Oct. 21. The Kullukand its own fleet of support vessels would emit 30 tons of particulate matter, 240 tons of nitrogen oxides and 80,000 tons of carbon dioxide. This amount of greenhouse gases would double the global warming pollution produced by roughly all of the North Slope Borough households.
“The Arctic is already under huge stress from climate change, and Shell’s industrial activities will significantly increase global warming pollution in this critical region, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world,” said Pardee. “Scientists predict summer sea ice could be gone in a few decades, directly threatening the existence of species like polar bears, seals and walruses; the last thing they need is oil drilling in their habitat.”
Monday’s appeal was filed before the Environmental Appeals Board by the Center for Biological Diversity, Native Village of Point Hope, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), Alaska Wilderness League, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, Pacific Environment, the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society. The organizations are being represented by Earthjustice.