As Gulf of Mexico Spill Worsens, Groups Challenge Shell's Air Permits to Drill in the Arctic

For Immediate Release

Environmental Groups
Contact: 

Caroline Cannon, Native Village of Point Hope, (907) 952-8456 or (907) 830- 2727
Faith Gemmill, REDOIL, (907) 750-0188
Emilie Surrusco, Alaska Wilderness League, (202) 544-5205
Eric F. Myers, Audubon Alaska, (907) 276-7034
Rebecca Noblin, Center for Biological Diversity, (907) 274-1110
Jared Saylor, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500 x 213
Pam Miller, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, (907) 452-5021 x 24
Carole Holley, Pacific Environment, (907) 306-1180
Dan Ritzman, The Sierra Club, (206) 499-5764
Michael LeVine, Oceana, (907) 723-0136

As Gulf of Mexico Spill Worsens, Groups Challenge Shell's Air Permits to Drill in the Arctic

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Alaska Natives and Alaska conservation groups yesterday appealed the
Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to issue Clean Air Act
permits to Shell Oil for the company’s plans to drill exploration wells
in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, off the north coast of Alaska,
beginning in July. The permits allow Shell’s drill ship and support
vessels to emit tons of air pollutants into the Arctic environment,
potentially harming the Inupiat people and wildlife of the Arctic and
contributing to climate change, which is rapidly melting the region.

Particularly in light of the tragic events unfolding in
the Gulf of Mexico, the groups are calling on EPA to ensure that Shell
takes every available precaution.

Shell’s permits are multiyear Prevention of Significant
Deterioration permits and are the first EPA has issued for this type of
operation in the Arctic. In addition to its drillship, Shell’s
operations will require an associated fleet of support vessels
including two icebreakers, an oil spill response fleet, and a supply
ship.

More than 90 percent of the air pollution from Shell’s
drilling operations would come from Shell’s icebreakers and other
associated vessels. However, the permits challenged yesterday would
only apply control technology limits to Shell’s drillship, a relatively
minor source of pollution from Shell’s operations, and not to these
associated vessels and icebreakers.

The groups seek, through the Environmental Appeals
Board, to have the EPA comply with the Clean Air Act and protect the
health of the people and ecosystems of the Arctic by requiring Shell to
use the best available control technology on all ships.

EPA’s permit allows Shell to spew thousands of tons of
pollutants into relatively pristine Arctic air. Among other things, the
permits allow Shell to discharge large particulate matter in
quantities that may be dangerous to human health. Shell’s activities
also will blast out potentially large quantities of black carbon, a
powerful driver of climate change and sea-ice melt. The emission of
black carbon into the environment would help speed climate change, warm
the Arctic, and threaten Alaska Native cultures and subsistence
activities.

The Arctic is under great stress from climate change.
The Arctic ecosystem depends on sea ice to thrive. As climate change
affects the region – the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of
the world – this sea ice melts at a rapid pace. Scientists now predict
that summer sea ice could be gone within a few decades, threatening
the very existence of species such as polar bears, seals, and walrus,
that make the ice their home. Unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases,
including black carbon, in the Arctic will only compound the problems.

The following statement was issued today by Caroline
Cannon, president of the Native Village of Point Hope: “Shell’s
drilling threatens to pollute the air we breathe, and EPA needs to
regulate the emissions more strongly. The drilling also risks
destroying our garden, the Arctic Ocean, which we rely upon for our way
of life. Our hearts go out to the residents of the Gulf of Mexico – the
spill there threatens to devastate their lives. A spill here, where it
could be even harder to clean up, would devastate not only our lives
but our culture. It’s just too risky to let Shell drill.”

Faith Gemmill, executive director of REDOIL, said:
"REDOIL, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands,
supports the Inupiat in their ability to continue to live a subsistence
way of life which is reliant on a healthy ecosystem. The burning of
fossil fuels is the major human cause of emissions that are resulting
in climate change. The current impacts of climate change on Alaska’s
indigenous peoples are perpetuated by the incessant demand for energy
to feed the high consumption appetite of America. Current energy policy
disproportionately targets indigenous homelands and marine ecosystems
and continually puts our subsistence way of life at risk. The Inupiat
culture is imperiled by offshore development. This threat is compounded
by climate change and vice versa. Any permit to streamline development
in this fragile Arctic region should not go unchallenged, due to
serious unacceptable risks associated with such projects.”

“The EPA must tell Shell to go back to the drawing board
and come up with a way to use the best available technology to ensure
that the health of the people of the Arctic slope and the wildlife they
depend on is not further damaged by dangerous pollutants,” said David
Dickson, Western Arctic and Oceans program director for Alaska
Wilderness League. “What’s more, the Gulf spill has shown us that oil
drilling is a dirty and dangerous business. Before any drilling plans
can go forward, we must be sure that sufficient safeguards are in place
to protect this pristine marine environment not only from pollution
but also potential disaster.”

According to Eric F. Myers, policy director of Audubon
Alaska: “The ongoing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico shows the need for
strict regulation of the oil and gas industry. Whether it involves air
emissions from drilling-related vessels or the ability to prevent and
respond to oil spills, strong and effective regulation is needed to
prevent the pollution of America’s Arctic. The Gulf blowout clearly
demonstrates the need for a ‘time-out’ before Shell’s exploratory
drilling is allowed to proceed in the Arctic Ocean.”

Rebecca Noblin, Center for Biological Diversity Alaska
program director, said: “This appeal asks the EPA to use its
authorities to do what Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has so far
refused to do – say no to Shell’s unwise and unlawful drilling plan.”

“This petition asks EPA not to give a pass to the
majority of the air pollution from Shell’s drilling — pollution that
will accelerate climate change in the region, potentially endanger
human health, and dirty the clean air of the Chukchi and Beaufort
seas,” said Earthjustice attorney David Hobstetter. “Further, oil
drilling in the Arctic Ocean comes with too many inherent dangers. An
oil spill from exploratory drilling would have catastrophic impacts on
wildlife and the communities that rely on them.”
 
“Shell’s drilling brings with it the risk of large oil
spills. Chronic spills are a fact of life from oil and gas operations
on Alaska’s North Slope, where over 6,000 spills have occurred since
1996, and more than 400 of these took place at offshore oil fields. In
the icy conditions of the Arctic Ocean, there is no way to effectively
clean up spilled oil,” said Pamela A. Miller, Alaska program
director for Northern Alaska Environmental Center.  

Pacific Environment’s Alaska Program Co-Director Carole
Holley supported Caroline Cannon’s plea: “The Arctic is rich in marine
mammals, fish, and birds, which have sustained Alaska Native cultures
that have inhabited the area for thousands of years. Allowing Shell’s
drill rig and accompanying support vessels to belch air pollutants into
the relatively pristine Arctic air, threatens the health of the
ecological and cultural heritage of the Arctic.”

“Rather than drilling in the Arctic Ocean and
surrounding coasts to solve America’s energy problems, we must embrace
responsible measures and real 21st-century sustainable energy solutions
that make cars go farther, promote conservation, invest in clean,
renewable energy, and protect our natural heritage, said Dan Ritzman,
Alaska Program director for the Sierra Club. “Clearly they are having
trouble containing and cleaning the oil in the ‘tropical’ Gulf of Mexico
– imagine if you throw in blizzards and floating ice chunks. I’ve
observed oil industry spill response drills in the Arctic Ocean and
there are many times during the year when the conditions prohibit any
outside human activity. This remote region is the least understood area
of the world, and a disastrous oil spill could leave oil in the waters
off Alaska for decades, killing whales, seals, fish, and birds, and
destroying feeding grounds. “

“We all want clean air and clean water,” said Michael
LeVine, Pacific senior counsel for Oceana. “Shell plans a major
industrial undertaking in one of the world’s most important places, and
we must take a step back to find to find out how to do it right.”

Today’s appeal was filed in Environmental Appeals Board
by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Native Village of Point Hope,
Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL),
Alaska Wilderness League, Audubon Alaska, Center for Biological
Diversity, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Oceana, Ocean
Conservancy, Pacific Environment, and the Sierra Club. The
organizations are being represented by Earthjustice, a nonprofit
environmental law firm.

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