Interior’s Offshore Drilling Announcement: Arctic Ocean Still at Risk

For Immediate Release

Environmental Groups
Contact: 

Emilie Surrusco, Alaska Wilderness League (202) 544-5205
Rebecca Noblin, Center for Biological Diversity (907) 274-1110
Erik Grafe, Earthjustice (907) 723-3813
Eric Myers, National Audubon Society (907) 276-7034
Justin Allegro, National Wildlife Federation (202) 797-6611
Bob Deans, Natural Resources Defense Council (202) 289-2393
Pamela Miller, Northern Alaska Environmental Center (907) 441-2407
Michael Levine, Oceana (907) 723-0136
Carole Holley, Pacific Environment (907) 277-1029
Marilyn Heiman, Pew Environment Group (206) 905-4796
Kristina Johnson, Sierra Club (415) 977-5619
Joe Pouliot, World Wildlife Fund (202) 495-4730
Lois Epstein, The Wilderness Society (907) 272-9453, x107

Interior’s Offshore Drilling Announcement: Arctic Ocean Still at Risk

WASHINGTON - Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced today that more environmental review is needed before Shell Oil can proceed with drilling in the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean. The Secretary announced that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) is preparing a supplemental environmental assessment of Shell Oil's plans to drill in an important feeding and resting area for endangered bowhead whales and directly offshore the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the Beaufort Sea in 2011. In addition, Secretary Salazar announced that Interior will consider including the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in a proposed new five-year plan.

The following statement comes from Alaska Wilderness League; Center for Biological Diversity; Earthjustice; National Audubon Society; Natural Resources Defense Council; National Wildlife Federation; Northern Alaska Environmental Center; Oceana; Pacific Environment; Pew Environment Group; Sierra Club; The Wilderness Society and World Wildlife Fund.

"The Department of the Interior has taken an important step forward today by requiring an additional environmental review and rejecting Shell Oil's request that its plans be approved without such review.

However, it is disturbing that Interior proposes to evaluate including the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in the 2012-2017 five-year plan, despite a severe lack of information and an inability to clean up oil spills in Arctic conditions. The same reasons that Secretary Salazar gave for leaving out the Eastern Gulf and mid-Atlantic apply to the Arctic's Beaufort and Chukchi Seas: ‘We need to proceed with caution and focus on creating a more stringent regulatory regime.' The Arctic's Beaufort and Chukchi Seas should not be proposed for inclusion in the 2012-2017 plan.

Any drilling in the Arctic Ocean is highly risky. The Department of the Interior announcement today recognizes that more scientific analysis is needed before an informed decision can be made on whether to drill in the Arctic. The law and common sense mandate that no drilling move forward until environmental review is complete. This process also will allow impacted Alaska Native communities and the general public to participate before that decision is made, which is important to ensure that the lessons of the Deepwater Horizon are learned.

Today's announcement is an important first step, but Interior should require a full environmental impact statement before Shell is permitted to drill in the Arctic Ocean because that drilling could result in significant environmental impacts, for example, from a major oil spill.

A new environmental analysis for Shell Oil's Beaufort Sea drilling must address:

Potentially significant effects to species such as endangered bowhead whales, threatened polar bears and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastline and from potential oil spills;

The need for research and data collection to provide a baseline understanding of Arctic species, ecosystems and environmental conditions, and the impacts of oil spills in that environment;

The need for a candid and accurate risk assessment and imposition of risk prevention measures;

Identification of the shortfalls in spill response systems, known as the response gap, and spill prevention measures that must be in place to mitigate those gaps;

Enhanced and vigilant oversight by government agencies and citizens to reduce the possibility of oil spills."

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