Obama Admin Takes Steps Towards More Oil Drilling

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Common Dreams

Obama Admin Takes Steps Towards More Oil Drilling

Shell's oil spill plan for Beaufort Sea drilling approved, seismic surveys for oil off east coast get OK

by
Common Dreams staff

“All signs point to environmental disaster if an oil spill were to occur in the harsh Arctic waters — it’s just absurd that Shell’s unproven response plan got the green light,” says Miyoko Sakashita of the Center for Biological Diversity. (photo: Chris Eichler via 350.org)

The Obama administration has taken steps towards increased oil drilling today in Alaska and off the east coat.  It approved Shell's oil spill response plan for the Arctic waters of the Beaufort Sea, a move slammed by environmental groups who warn of a likely environmental catastophe if Shell is given its final permits.  The administration also allowed today seismic exploratory surveys for oil off the coast of Virginia in the Atlantic Ocean.

Shell's oil spill plan suggests little likelihood of a blowout and calls for a containment device like the one used in the Deepwater Horizon blowout to be clamped onto the well in the event that Shell's built-in blowout preventer failed.

"If Shell goes there to drill, they will kill the Arctic Ocean along the way—we must fight and stop them," says Subhankar Banerjee, founder of ClimateStoryTellers.org.

“It’s deeply disappointing that President Obama is choosing to ignore the enormous risks of opening the Arctic Ocean to oil drilling,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “All signs point to environmental disaster if an oil spill were to occur in the harsh Arctic waters — it’s just absurd that Shell’s unproven response plan got the green light.”

Cindy Shogan, Executive Director of the Alaska Wilderness League, warned in a statement: "There is no viable way to clean up an oil spill in the extreme conditions of America’s Arctic Ocean, yet the Obama administration continues to give the green light to Shell Oil’s plans for drilling this summer." Shogan added, "If President Obama fails to stop Shell from drilling in America’s Arctic Ocean he could be left with the next major drilling disaster on his hands and the destruction of one of our planet’s most vital ecosystems.”

In addition to the seismic surveys off the east coast paving the way for oil drilling, the surveys themselves will be harmful to marine wildlife.

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The Hill's E2-Wire: Interior approval brings Shell closer to drilling in the Arctic this summer

The Interior Department on Wednesday green-lighted a plan that brings Shell closer to drilling in waters off the coast of Alaska this summer.

The department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) announced that it has approved Shell’s oil spill response plan for exploration in the Beaufort Sea, which is located in arctic waters off Alaska’s northern coast.

Interior said it subjected the plan to additional scrutiny based on a series of beefed-up safety and environmental standards put in place in the aftermath of the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexcio oil spill.

“We have conducted an exhaustive review of Shell’s response plan for the Beaufort Sea,” BSEE Director James Watson said in a news release. “Our focus moving forward will be to hold Shell accountable and to follow-up with exercises, reviews and inspections to ensure that all personnel and equipment are positioned and ready.”

Shell called approval of the plan a “major milestone” in its longtime efforts to drill in the Arctic.

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Subhankar Banerjee, founder, ClimateStoryTellers.org and editor, Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point:

"If Shell goes there to drill, they will kill the Arctic Ocean along the way—we must fight and stop them.""The Obama administration’s approval of Shell’s spill response plan in the Beaufort Sea is a total affront to the way of life of the Iñupiat communities of the Arctic coast of Alaska, and a severe threat to the ecological integrity of the continuous rich marine habitat of the Beaufort, Chukchi and Bering Seas. Shell does not have the technology (no one does) to clean up oil from a major spill underneath the powerful multi-year sea ice of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, in the extremely harsh environment of the Arctic Ocean that includes, low temperatures, harsh blizzards, white outs that limit visibility, and little daylight during autumn and winter. I have spent much time out there and I am outraged that the government is continuing to rubber stamp Shell’s permits after permits and ignoring what the Iñupiat communities and the environmental organizations have to say. If Shell goes there to drill, they will kill the Arctic Ocean along the way—we must fight and stop them."

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Reuters: US to assess energy potential offshore Atlantic

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration said on Wednesday it was moving toward allowing private companies to begin assessing the oil and gas potential off the country's Atlantic coast, but full exploration is likely still years away.

The Interior Department released a draft environmental analysis on Wednesday that found minor to moderate impact if it allowed companies to begin seismic testing off the country's east coast.

"As we move forward with the safe exploration and production of our domestic energy supply, this environmental analysis will help provide the critical information we need to make smart decisions in the Mid- and South Atlantic," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

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Chicago Tribune: Arctic drilling: Beaufort Sea oil spill response plan approved

Though Shell Alaska still needs several final permits, the oil spill plan has been the most debated aspect of the upcoming drilling program, with fears that cleaning up an offshore blowout in the turbulent, often icy seas of the Arctic could be a formidable challenge. [...]

The current plan requires Shell and its fleet of offshore oil response vessels to be ready to contain and clean up a discharge of up to 480,000 barrels of oil, representing a blowout of 16,000 barrels a day over a 30-day period. Such a spill would probably send oil pluming many miles offshore in a swath extending from just east of Prudhoe Bay to about 45 miles further east, at Brownlow Point on the edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, according to the document.

The plan suggests the likelihood of that happening is quite small: Shell is designing and prepositioning a containment device, similar to that which eventually halted the Deepwater Horizon blowout, that would theoretically be quickly clamped onto the well in the event that, as happened in the gulf, the built-in blowout preventer failed.

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Center for Biological Diversity: Feds Approve Weak Oil-spill Response Plan in Arctic; Move Toward Offshore Drilling Off Virginia

SAN FRANCISCO - March 28 - Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced approval today of Shell Oil’s oil-spill response plan for offshore drilling in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska. At the same time, the secretary announced plans to move forward with seismic exploratory surveys for oil in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Virginia. Both announcements move these areas that have largely been closed to offshore drilling closer to becoming industrial oil fields.

“It’s deeply disappointing that President Obama is choosing to ignore the enormous risks of opening the Arctic Ocean to oil drilling.”“It’s deeply disappointing that President Obama is choosing to ignore the enormous risks of opening the Arctic Ocean to oil drilling,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “All signs point to environmental disaster if an oil spill were to occur in the harsh Arctic waters — it’s just absurd that Shell’s unproven response plan got the green light.”

The unrealistic oil spill plan claims that 95% of oil spilled could be recovered when only 3% of oil was recovered in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill. Drilling in the extreme conditions of the Arctic Ocean could put human lives and wildlife at risk; so far, testing of oil-spill response in the area has proven a failure, the containment cap in the plan is untested, and the nearest Coast Guard station is 1,000 miles away. The Arctic is home to the most pristine ocean habitat in the world for polar bears, whales and walruses.

Earlier this year, Shell Oil sued the Center and other environmental organizations, asking the court to declare that its oil-spill response plan for the Chukchi Sea was adequate — a move seemingly aimed at intimidating organizations opposing  Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic this summer.

The government today also announced plans to conduct seismic surveys along the Atlantic coast in hopes of finding oil deposits that could lead to leasing Atlantic waters for offshore drilling. The seismic surveys pave the way for new drilling.

“Seismic surveys are, in and of themselves, very harmful to marine life. The blasts are like explosions that can cause hearing loss, disturbance and even stranding for animals like whales,” said Sakashita. “And besides hurting marine animals, these exploratory surveys are the gateway to more risky drilling.”

The Center and its allies are part of a pending lawsuit challenging seismic surveys for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico that were approved without the permits needed under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act.

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Alaska Wilderness League: President Obama ignores facts and continues to give green light to Arctic drilling (pdf)
Statement from Cindy Shogan, Executive Director, Alaska Wilderness League

"If President Obama fails to stop Shell from drilling in America’s Arctic Ocean he could be left with the next major drilling disaster on his hands and the destruction of one of our planet’s most vital ecosystems.”Today’s announcement that the Obama administration has approved Shell’s oil spill response plan for the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea, following on the tail of the approval of Shell’s spill response plan for the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea, is extremely disappointing. There is no viable way to clean up an oil spill in the extreme conditions of America’s Arctic Ocean, yet the Obama administration continues to give the green light to Shell Oil’s plans for drilling this summer. We can only hope that President Obama shows the leadership he promised and refuses to bow to the demands of Big Oil by not granting Shell the final permits it needs to begin drilling in July.

The Arctic Ocean is prone to hurricane-force storms, 20-foot swells, sea ice up to 25 feet thick, sub- zero temperatures and months-long darkness. What’s more, the Arctic has extremely limited infrastructure (there are no roads or deep water ports and only a handful of small airports) and the nearest Coast Guard station is 1,000 miles away. These conditions and the current lack of information and technology combine to make Arctic drilling tantamount to ‘Mission Impossible.’

The gas spill in the North Sea and other recent disasters – including a recent natural gas blowout in Alaska - remind us that the risks are too great, particularly in places like the Arctic where the challenges are foreboding. If President Obama fails to stop Shell from drilling in America’s Arctic Ocean he could be left with the next major drilling disaster on his hands and the destruction of one of our planet’s most vital ecosystems.”

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