Appeals Decision Paves Way for Shell's Arctic Drilling

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Common Dreams

Appeals Decision Paves Way for Shell's Arctic Drilling

Court ruling issued Friday before holiday weekend sides with federal gov't to green light exploration plans

by
Common Dreams staff

Anchorage Daily News: An appeals court has sided with the federal government in giving the go-ahead to Shell Oil Co. to move forward with drilling in the Alaska Arctic this year, according to a ruling issued Friday night. (photo: Subhankar Banerjee)

An appeals court ruling issued late Friday gives Shell the green light to pursue its Arctic drilling plans, despite years-long challenges by environmental and indigenous groups.

“We should not be gambling with the future of the Arctic Ocean. Oil drilling in this pristine wilderness means risking oil spills that can’t be cleaned up, and it means more dirty fuels adding to climate change — both of which threaten to destroy the Arctic forever,” Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity, has warned. The Center for Biological Diversity, along with other environmental groups, delivered over a million signatures to the White House this month demanding President Obama stop Shell's plans for oil drilling in the Arctic.

A recent New York Times article illustrated how President Obama helped authorize Shell's drilling in the Arctic. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club told the Times, “We never would have expected a Democratic president — let alone one seeking to be ‘transformative’ — to open up the Arctic Ocean for drilling.”

“We never would have expected a Democratic president — let alone one seeking to be ‘transformative’ — to open up the Arctic Ocean for drilling”
- Sierra Club
Reacting to the Times revelation, photojournalist and writer Subhankar Banerjee stated, "No one knows how to clean up oil from underneath the ice or in the extremely harsh weather of the Arctic. If Shell is allowed to drill there come July, they will kill the Arctic Ocean, and along the way destroy the traditional culture of the Iñupiat communities."

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decisions allow for Shell's exploration wells in both the Beaufort Sea and Chukchi Sea.

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Anchorage Daily News: Appeals court backs decision giving Shell OK to drill in Arctic

An appeals court has sided with the federal government in giving the go-ahead to Shell Oil Co. to move forward with drilling in the Alaska Arctic this year, according to a ruling issued Friday night.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected challenges by Alaska Native groups to Shell's exploration plan in the Beaufort Sea and, in a separate memorandum, also denied petitions challenging its plan for the Chukchi Sea.

The Native Village of Point Hope and the Inupiat Community of the North Slope asserted that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management failed to properly consider the risks of drilling in the Arctic in approving Shell's plans. A number of environmental groups, including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society, also challenged the federal approval.

"This case is the latest chapter in a long-running saga beginning back in April 2002," the three-judge panel wrote in the 27-page opinion. That's when the old Minerals Management Service established a schedule for a lease sale in the outer continental shelf of Alaska.

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Related:
Pratap Chatterjee: How Obama Helped Authorize Shell's Drilling the Arctic

President Barack Obama personally helped Shell obtain authorization to drill for oil in Alaska, according to a 4,678 word front page article in the New York Times. This is a startling break from decades long U.S. policy which regarded the environment in the Arctic region too fragile to tamper with.

“(T)he president concluded that the reward was worth the risk, and created an unusual interagency group, overseen by a midlevel White House aide, to clear Shell’s path through the often fractious federal regulatory bureaucracy,” write John Broder and Clifford Krauss.

In November 2010, almost two years after he was elected, Obama told William K. Reilly and Carol M. Browner, two former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, what he wanted them to do. “Where are you coming out on the offshore Arctic?” he asked. “What that told me,” Reilly told the New York Times, “was that the president had already gotten deeply into this issue and was prepared to go forward.” [...]

Protests against Shell’s plan have been ongoing for years. On Wednesday, activists launched two reports at the company’s annual meeting in the Hague. “Risking Ruin : Shell’s dangerous developments in the Tar Sands, Arctic, and Nigeria report” by the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and “Out in the Cold – Investor Risk in Shell’s Arctic Exploration” from Platform, Greenpeace and FairPensions.

“Our village has been there 4000 years. Our biggest concern is spilled oil getting into the ocean and affecting the marine mammals that we depend upon. Your clean-up ability is not adequate,” Robert Thompson, a village of Kaktovik on the edge of the Arctic Ocean in Alaska, told shareholders.

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Related:
Common Dreams: Over One Million Say Shell No! to Arctic Drilling

Environmental groups delivered over a million signatures to the White House today demanding President Obama stop Shell's plans for oil drilling in the Arctic.

The groups highlighted the potential disastrous impact the drilling would have on Arctic wildlife including polar bears, caribou, walrus, seals and eiders, all already impacted by global warming.

“Shell’s ships are already on the way to drill in the icy Arctic waters, putting human life, polar bears and whales at risk in harsh, stormy conditions,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity, which worked with the Sierra Club, the Alaska Wilderness League and other groups to deliver the petitions. “President Obama has a small window to stop Shell from spoiling the Arctic, and that’s exactly what people across the country are asking him to do.”

Shell's plans for exploratory wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas are now under consideration by the Obama administration, which, if OKed, would allow drilling to begin this summer.

Cindy Shogan, Executive Director of Alaska Wilderness League, also highlighted the risks of the plan for drilling in the extreme environment: "With no plan to clean up a spill and inadequate scientific information, we should not be risking our one and only Arctic with aggressive, risky drilling. The risks are huge – at this point, drilling in the Arctic Ocean is tantamount to ‘Mission Impossible.’"

"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. There is no proven way to clean up an oil spill in these extreme conditions. 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," stated Shogan.

“We should not be gambling with the future of the Arctic Ocean. Oil drilling in this pristine wilderness means risking oil spills that can’t be cleaned up, and it means more dirty fuels adding to climate change — both of which threaten to destroy the Arctic forever,” added Sakashita.

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