Lawsuit seeks more transparency on Arctic offshore drilling

oil map
Are federal regulators prepared to manage an oil spill in the Arctic?


Oil spill containment and cleanup plans still sketchy

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — With Shell Oil aiming for spring oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, a government watchdog group has filed a lawsuit to force the release of documents relating to the company’s ability to contain potential oil spills. Click here to read an EPA fact sheet on Arctic offshore drilling.

Also at issue are safeguards required to protect against such known hazards as sea ice, subsurface ice scour and blowouts, as well as specifications for well design and well integrity control, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

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.

The nonprofit group has filed numerous Freedom of Information Act requests for documents and reports related to tests of safety and containment gear, but so far, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has failed to release the requested information.

“We have yet to see any evidence supporting the claim that Interior has upgraded the lax enforcement enabling the BP Gulf spill,” said PEER director Jeff Ruch. “In fact, what few records we have been able to pry loose suggest just the opposite,. This material on operational safety should be on the world-wide web, not locked away in a proprietary safe,” Ruch said.


What little information BSSE has disclosed raises more doubts about its independence from industry. In September, following a previous PEER lawsuit, the agency was forced to concede that it had done only partial and cursory testing with no independent analysis of the results for the capping system to prevent a repeat of the large, lengthy Gulf of Mexico blowout in sensitive Arctic waters.

Early tests of some of the containment equipment failed, and federal regulators have said they won’t allow drilling to proceed until they’re satisfied that the required equipment is functional and operational.

“We learned that Shell and BSEE clearly do not yet have their act together on Arctic offshore drilling,” said Rick Steiner, an expert in oil spill response and a retired University of Alaska professor and PEER board member. “We need far more assurances on safety before they can responsibly conduct any further drilling, and the information sought in this suit is a start.”

Shell hopes to begin drilling this spring in the remote Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.  Those plans are also under direct legal challenge by environmental groups and Native governments. The documents sought by the new PEER suit will buttress their legal challenges that known major hazards have not been addressed. 

Links provided by PEER:

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