First Deepwater Drilling Plan Approved for Gulf of Mexico; Feds Claim No Significant Environmental Impacts

For Immediate Release

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Miyoko Sakashita (415) 632-5308

First Deepwater Drilling Plan Approved for Gulf of Mexico; Feds Claim No Significant Environmental Impacts

SAN FRANCISCO - Interior Secretary Salazar today announced the approval of the first deepwater drilling exploration plan since the moratorium was lifted. The approval is for Shell Offshore to drill three exploration wells in water 2,950 feet deep, 130 miles offshore Louisiana. Prior to approving the plan, the Department of the Interior prepared an environmental assessment and found that there was no possibility of significant environmental effects.

“By approving a new exploration plan in deep water, Secretary of the Interior Salazar has essentially determined that deepwater drilling in the Gulf has no significant environmental effects — a position that seems untenable in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Department of the Interior has not yet made the environmental assessment it prepared available for public review. According to Interior, an environmental impact statement — which is a more comprehensive environmental review than an environmental assessment — was not required because Interior found that the drilling activities would have no significant impact. The Center for Biological Diversity and partners commented on the exploration plan prior to its approval, urging the Interior Department to prepare a full environmental impact statement.

“Pressure to drill is clouding Secretary Salazar’s meaningful review of offshore drilling,” said Sakashita. ”While Interior has admitted that environmental review was inadequate before the BP oil spill, it nonetheless just approved new deepwater drilling before completing the full environmental impact statement that it has promised to prepare.”

The environmental devastation in the Gulf of Mexico from the BP oil spill is ongoing, and the full effects will be unknown for decades. Experts speculate that dolphins being exposed to the BP oil spill may have lead to a spike in dolphin miscarriages; more than 80 have been found dead along the coast. Long-term impacts on sea turtles, birds, whales and rare bluefin tuna that were spawning during the BP spill have yet to be determined.

The Center for Biological Diversity has two lawsuits pending that challenge the government’s failures to comply with environmental laws while permitting offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico even after the BP rig exploded on April 20, 2010. The Center also has pending a $19 billion Clean Water Act suit against BP to make sure that the oil giant is held responsible for environmental clean-up.

Visit the Center's Gulf Disaster website: www.biologicaldiversity.org/gulf_disaster.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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