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Environment: Federal appeals court nixes fossil fuel lease sales in Chukchi Sea

Shell Oil has been permitted to start preparatory drilling in the Chukchi Sea.

A federal court this week ruled that the Bureau of Energy Management violated environmental laws when it sold leases for fossil fuel production in the Chukchi Sea.

Judges say feds made ‘arbitrary and capricious’ decision on how much oil can be extracted

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — There’s no question that there is a lot of oil beneath the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean, and the Chukchi Sea, specifically.

But exactly how much is a question that is still open to debate, according to a federal court, which this week ruled that the U.S. Department of Interior made an “arbitrary and capricious” decision when it sold drilling rights in the area back in 2008 based on an estimate of about 1 billion barrels of oil.

Federal officials may have pulled that number out of a hat, the three-hudge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, ordering the federal government to revise the environmental study for the 2008 lease sale. The court also said federal officials may have low-balled potential environmental impacts of fossil fuel development in the Chukchi Sea. Continue reading

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Energy: GOP seeks to force more offshore drilling

Anti-environmental energy bill would increase heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions and risk more oil spills

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Surfers, and many other coastal conservation advocates, are not happy with a GOP plan to open vast new ocean areas to offshore oil and gas drilling. Bob Berwyn photo.

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A bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would require the Obama administration to open huge new areas for offshore fossil fuel development.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Just a few days after President Obama described the urgent need to move away from fossil fuels, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would result in even more heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.

Playing their well-worn jobs and gas prices card, House Republicans pushed through the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act (H.R. 2231), a measure that would open nearly all coastal areas to offshore drilling.

“President Obama came into office with a tremendous opportunity to expand America’s offshore oil and natural gas production. Instead, he said NO to new American jobs and NO to new American energy by canceling lease sales, placing more offshore areas off-limits,and effectively re-imposing an offshore drilling moratorium,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings said after the vote. Continue reading

Report finds serious flaws with Shell’s Arctic drilling program

Equipment failures, environmental violations and lack of oversight need to be addressed before moving ahead with drilling plans

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Feds tell Shell to rethink Arctic offshore drilling plans.

* More coverage of Shell’s Arctic drilling program

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Eager to exploit the Arctic for fossil fuel resources and to live up to shareholder expectations, Royal Dutch Shell rushed into its offshore drilling program without being “fully prepared in terms of fabricating and testing certain critical systems and establishing the scope of its operational plans,” according to a U.S. Department of Interior report released this week.

Key failures included Shell’s inability to get certification for an oil spill containment system  required to be on site in the event of a loss of well control. The report said the company’s failure to deploy the system was due “to shortcomings in Shell’s management and oversight of key contractors.”

The review was launched after a string of well-publicized problems culminated with a runaway drill rig that ended up running aground on a remote Alaskan island. The company is also under investigation for a string of violations of various environmental requirements. In February, Shell announced a one year pause in its Arctic drilling program to address the shortcomings. Continue reading

Environment: Drill rig runs aground on Alaskan island

A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-65 Jayhawk helicopter crew delivers personnel to the conical drilling unit Kulluk, southeast of Kodiak, Alaska, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. Response crews have been fighting severe weather in the Gulf of Alaska while working with the Kulluk and its tow vessel Aiviq. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-65 Jayhawk helicopter crew delivers personnel to the conical drilling unit Kulluk, southeast of Kodiak, Alaska, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. Response crews have been fighting severe weather in the Gulf of Alaska while working with the Kulluk and its tow vessel Aiviq. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

Shell Oil struggling with keeping control off its Arctic oil drilling equipment

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — While pressing ahead with plans for offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, Shel Oil has been unable to maintain control of its equipment. In the latest accident, one of the company’s oil drilling ships ran aground New Year’s Eve on the southeast shoreline of Sitkalidak Island, about 250 miles south of Anchorage.

The Kulluk was part of the Shell’s test drilling program last summer. According to the company, the vessel was loaded with about 139,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 12,000 gallons of other oil-based drilling and mechanical fluids. Continue reading

Environment: Lawsuit seeks Arctic drilling safety test data

A polar bear in the Arctic. Photo courtesy Dr. Kathy Crane, NOAA.

Group says feds missed deadline for responding to FOIA request

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — While federal officials say they’re satisfied with Puget Sound tests of Shell’s proposed Arctic-ready capping stack system, a watchdog group says some critical safety information hasn’t been released to the public.

The unreleased testing data could reveal whether there could be an Arctic repeat of the disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico when Shell starts drilling in the Arctic, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The group filed a lawsuit this week to force the release of the information.

Federal officials said in June that the safety equipment meets new standards set to guard against another distastrous spill. Following the announcement, retired University of Alaska professor Rick Steiner, a PEER board member described as an oil spill expert, requested the actual Shell cap-test data under the Freedom of Information Act. Continue reading

Oil companies bid $712 million for Gulf leases

Conservation groups challenge lease sale with lawsuit

A NOAA graphic shows various types of offshore drilling platforms, including: conventional fixed platforms (1 & 2); compliant tower (3); vertically moored tension leg and mini-tension leg platform (4 & 5);Spar (6); Semi-submersibles (7 & 8)lFloating production, storage, and offloading facility (9); sub-sea completion and tie-back to host facility (10).

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Oil companies eager to drill in the Gulf of Mexico lined up to bid on the Western Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas Lease Sale 218 this week, with more than 20 companies submitting 241 bids on 191 tracts across more than 1 million acres off the shores of Texas.

The total value of the bids received by the U.S. Department of Interior was about $712 million, Interior Department officials said as they touted their reforms to make drilling safer.

“Today’s lease sale, the first since the tragic events of Deepwater Horizon, continues the Obama administration’s commitment to a balanced and comprehensive energy plan,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who attended the sale and provided opening remarks. “Offshore drilling will never be risk free, but over the last 19 months we have moved quickly and aggressively with the most significant oil and gas reforms in U.S. history to make it safer and more environmentally responsible. Today’s sale is another step in ensuring the safe and responsible development of the nation’s offshore energy resources.” Continue reading

Environment: Ready for another Gulf oil disaster?

New oil leasing planned in western Gulf of Mexico

A sea turtle swims near oiled sargassum after last year's Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. PHOTO VIA NOAA.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — While biologists are still trying to understand the full ramifications of last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration has apparently caved in to political pressure by opening new areas in the Gulf for oil-drilling leases.

Conservation groups immediately protested the proposed leasing, pointing out that many existing leases are inactive, and that the environmental toll from last year’s deep-sea oil spill is still climbing.

University of Georgia researchers have documented areas of sea floor that are still covered with oil residue; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is reporting catches of Gulf finfish like red snapper with open and unhealed sores, and University of Central Florida research recently linked the oil spill to more than 150 dead dolphins that have washed up on Gulf coasts since January 2011, including 65 newborn, infants, stillborn or those born prematurely. Continue reading

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