Native Alaskans, conservation groups go to court to block federal approval for Beaufort Sea oil exploration and development
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Alaska natives, along with state and national environmental groups, said Friday they have filed a lawsuit in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to block new offshore oil drilling in the Beaufort Sea, off the north coast of Alaska.
After a short delay following last summer’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, federal regulators approved plans by Shell to start Arctic drilling as soon as 2012 — despite the fact that there is no good disaster response or cleanup plan in place. Several federal reports have also pointed out that there are big gaps in the environmental data needed to make an accurate assessment of potential impacts.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement released an environmental assessment for the Beaufort Sea plan Aug. 4, concluding with a finding of no significant impact.
The BOEMRE decision includes several strict conditions and requires Shell to obtain several additional permits before drilling starts. The letter also requires Shell to completing an underwater capping and containment system before drilling. Read the BOEMRE letter here.
The lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Native Village of Point Hope, Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Oceana, Pacific Environment, REDOIL, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society.
“Allowing Shell to drill when it has no credible plan to cleanup an oil spill in the Arctic’s icy waters, and instead simply assumes it can clean up 95 percent of oil spilled, isn’t just unrealistic, it’s insulting and irresponsible,” said Earthjustice attorney Holly Harris.
A spill in the Arctic Ocean would devastate polar bears, bowhead whales and other marine mammals and would severely affect Native subsistence communities, which have thrived in this region for generations.
“Approving Shell drilling in the Beaufort Sea is irresponsible and risks disaster. We have a right to life, to physical integrity, to security, and the right to enjoy the benefits of our culture. For this, we will fight, and this is why we have gone to court today. Our culture can never be bought or repaired with money. It is priceless,” said Caroline Cannon, president of the Native Village of Point Hope.
A recent report to the Canadian government concluded cleanup would be impossible 44 to 84 percent of the time during the short summer drilling season, and completely impossible the other seven to eight months of the year.
U.S. Coast Guard officials have repeatedly explained that the resources to clean up an oil spill in the waters of the Arctic Ocean simply don’t exist. This summer, Commandant Admiral Robert Papp told Congress that the federal government has “zero” spill response capability in the Arctic.
Further, a recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey makes clear that basic scientific information about nearly every aspect of the Arctic Ocean ecosystem is missing. This lack of data makes it impossible to adequately assess the risks and impacts of drilling to wildlife and people in the Arctic and, as a result, makes it impossible to make informed, science-based decisions.
“Any oil company that wants to drill in the Arctic Ocean must demonstrate an ability to clean up oil spilled in these icy waters with proven technology,” said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “Shell’s current oil spill plan is full of inadequacies and falsehoods. Shame on the Obama administration for allowing politics to trump science by approving such an unrealistic plan to drill in the Beaufort Sea.”
“Both Shell and the federal government are proceeding as if the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster — the worst environmental catastrophe this country has ever seen — simply didn’t happen,” said Sierra Weaver, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “Pretending there’s no risk associated with drilling, especially in the fragile waters of the Arctic, is not only irresponsible, it’s unacceptable.”
“If you liked the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, you will love Shell’s plan for Alaska,” said , Vice President of Government Relations Mike Daulton of the National Audubon Society. “Shell has never demonstrated the ability to effectively clean up a large oil spill in the Arctic Ocean. In addition to the usual problems handling a major spill, Alaska has huge ocean waves, gale force winds and widespread sea ice. A major oil spill in Alaska would be Deepwater Horizon meets the Titanic.”
“It is unfortunate that we have been forced to go to court to make our voices for science and preparedness heard,” said Dr. Chris Krenz, Arctic Project Manager for Oceana, “We remain hopeful that the government will stop making piecemeal decisions that lead to controversy and litigation and instead commit to a holistic look at the Arctic Ocean and a vision that will move us forward.”
“Approving oil drilling in the remote and icy waters of the Arctic Ocean at this time is reckless,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska regional director with The Wilderness Society. “This region is home to endangered and threatened polar bears, bowhead whales, seals, fish and birds. Alaska Natives in the region rely on these resources. Shell has no proven technologies to clean up an oil spill in these waters. Scientists agree, and so do we, that we need a better understanding of the impacts of an oil spill and the ability to respond effectively before we take the risk to drill.”
Filed under: energy, Environment, federal government, oil drilling, Summit County news Tagged: | Arctic oil drilling, Arctic oil drilling lawsuit, Beaufort Sea, BOEMRE, Earthjustice, energy, Environment, Shell Oil arctic drilling