The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Deirdre McDonnell, Earthjustice, (971) 255-0966
Trish Rolfe, Sierra Club, (907) -276-4044
David Dickson , Alaska Wilderness League, (202) 544-5205
Whit Sheard, Pacific Environment, (907) -982-7095
Rebecca Noblin, Center for Biological Diversity, (907) -274-1110

Shell Oil Proposes New Arctic Ocean Drilling Plan

Court order stops prior drilling effort

Alaska Native and
conservation groups today cheered the end of a successful legal
challenge that stopped Shell Oil from hastily drilling for oil in the
Arctic Ocean. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
dismissed the case
after Shell Offshore, Inc., withdrew the drilling plan. The court had
earlier issued a preliminary injunction stopping oil drilling in the
Beaufort Sea for the past two summers. The Bush administration approved
the drilling plan without a full environmental
The groups opposed the drilling plan because large-scale
industrial activities threatened Native subsistence users and
endangered bowhead whales, polar bears, and other marine animals in
coastal waters just off the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Even though its prior plan was stopped by court order, Shell has
proposed a new, expanded plan to drill in 2010 not only in the Beaufort
Sea, but also in the neighboring Chukchi Sea. Both are important
habitat for the endangered bowhead whale. The new
drilling plan poses the same threats to important arctic animals and
habitats and would put wells just offshore of the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge. Native and conservation groups are hopeful that the
Obama administration will conduct a rigorous environmental
review, including a full environmental impact statement, before
permitting any drilling in the Arctic and will use this process to
balance competing concerns.
Shell's new plan includes drilling right in the middle of the
bowhead's migration corridor and important Alaska Native subsistence
hunting areas. The industrial activity is proposed when mothers and
calf whales, some of the most sensitive members of the
population, are present.
"If drilling is allowed, there's a good chance it will interfere
with the subsistence hunt, scare whales away from important feeding
areas, and potentially separate dependant calves from their mothers,"
said Deirdre McDonnell of Earthjustice.
"The federal government shouldn't rubber stamp drilling plans
without knowing the potential consequences," said David Dickson,
Director of the Oceans Program for the Alaska Wilderness League. "We
hope the Obama administration takes this opportunity to
base development decisions in the Arctic on sound science. We urge them
to conduct a thorough scientific review of Shell's new drilling plans."
"Shell still does not have the ability to clean up an oil spill in
arctic waters and ice," said Whit Sheard "The new drilling plan for
the Arctic Ocean poses the same unacceptable risk of oil spills."
The Arctic is undergoing major shifts due to climate change.
Summer sea ice is retreating rapidly--reaching record low levels during
the past two summers. The changes raise major concerns about the
survival of wildlife--such as the polar bear--that call the
Arctic home. Now the Obama administration will have a chance to revisit
these issues.
"We simply can't allow giveaways to Big Oil, such as the 70
million acres offered in the Arctic, to pass for an energy
policy--especially in an area where our addiction to fossil fuels is
already endangering wildlife and threatening traditional communities."
Said Trish Rolfe of the Sierra Club in Alaska.
"If polar bears and other ice-dependent species are to survive as
the Arctic melts in the face of global warming, we need to protect
their critical habitat, not turn it into an industrial zone," said
Rebecca Noblin of the Center for Biological Diversity.
Groups challenging the permit were the Alaska Wilderness League,
Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pacific Environment,
Center for Biological Diversity, and Resisting Environmental
Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), all represented
by Earthjustice. The North Slope Borough and Alaska Eskimo Whaling
Commission also challenged the drilling plan.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked oil
drilling activity since July 2007, when it entered a preliminary order
stopping the three-year plan. Alaska Native organizations and
conservation groups had sued to halt drilling in the face of
rushed approval by the Bush administration.
The court initially made a finding that drilling opponents were
likely to succeed in their challenge, and issued a preliminary
injunction stopping the drilling pending its decision on the merits of
the case. After considering the merits, the court issued
a decision striking down the plan. The court later withdrew its
opinion, indicating it would replace it with a new opinion and leaving
the initial order stopping the drilling in place. Then last month,
Shell withdrew its controversial plan before the court
could enter a new opinion on the merits.