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Interior Department: Shell 'Screwed Up' in the Arctic

As Interior Department gives 'slap on the wrist' to Big Oil, green groups assert that it will never be safe to drill in those waters

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

(Photo: Denis Sinyakov/ Greenpeace)

Shell "screwed up in 2012," US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said of the company's blunder-filled year in Arctic waters, and said it was barred—for now—from drilling in the Arctic. His comments came after the release Thursday of a government review (pdf) which concluded that Shell was not prepared for the extreme conditions in the Arctic.

Following the report, green groups berated the government's failure to take responsibility for the incident and asserted once again that, despite oversight and government review, it will never be safe to drill in the Arctic, an activity Salazar stressed was "a key component of the President’s all-of-the-above energy strategy."

“While this report confirms that Royal Dutch Shell royally screwed up in 2012, it doesn’t do enough to make sure those mistakes aren’t repeated in the years to come,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Drilling in the Arctic can never be made safe for polar bears, whales and ice seals or the fragile ecosystems where they live. President Obama should have used this opportunity to rethink his support for Arctic drilling and take if off the table forever.”

"Certainly the Obama administration has all the evidence it will ever need that drilling in the Arctic is a recipe for disaster," added Greenpeace Director Phil Radford.

The report followed a 60-day review by the Interior Department of the oil giant's myriad blunders with their drilling and spill containment vessels, which culminated with the New Year's grounding of the Kulluk oil rig.

The review said Shell had been ill-prepared for the extreme weather conditions and short drilling season in the Arctic, particularly criticizing their inadequate equipment and poor oversight of contractors.

"Shell screwed up in 2012 and we are not going to let them screw up after their pause is removed," Salazar said, referring to the company's announcement last month that they were taking a break in their Arctic drilling plan.

"Shell will not be able to move forward into the Arctic to do any kind of exploration unless they have this integrated management plan put in place," he added, leaving a door open for Shell to try again in 2014.

Environmental groups criticized the government report for "merely giving Big Oil a slap on the wrist" and for demanding "paperwork instead of Arctic protection." Radford said in a statement:

The Government should be embarrassed for granting Shell the permits it did this year, but instead the report blithely congratulates agencies for working together so well. Secretary Salazar hit the nail on the head today when he bluntly characterized Shell as screwing up in the Arctic. That this Government gave them an official blessing could well be Secretary Salazar’s legacy. He will be remembered for presiding over one oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and setting the scene for one in the Arctic.[...]

What happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic. Allowing the world's richest companies to drill for the very oil that is causing the Arctic to melt will only lock us into a future with more superstorms, more droughts, and more resource conflict around the world.


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