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Lessons Unlearned

Last summer, we were captivated by a live video feed of oil spewing from a broken well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. The Deepwater Horizon disaster woke up America to the dangers of offshore oil drilling, and the government was quick to act.

Shortly after 11 workers lost their lives, the Obama administration shelved plans to drill for oil in America’s Arctic Ocean. If even a fraction of the 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico were to spill in the remote, fragile waters of the Arctic Ocean, the result would be devastating; there is no known technology to clean up oil spilled in these waters where 20-foot swells and huge chunks of ice are common.

But, clearly, those leassons have been unlearned.

This week, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) gave the green light to Shell Oil to drill in the Beaufort Sea as early as summer 2012. This plan was the same plan the administration put on hold last summer--except it's even bigger. The current plan includes drilling more oil wells than what they shelved in May 2010. This despite more scientific consensus that we simply don’t know enough about what the impacts of an oil spill would be in this region.

As we said in our press release:

After the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the National Oil Spill Commission identified ‘the failure to plan effectively for a large-scale, difficult-to-contain spill’ in the Arctic as one of the ‘three critical issues or gaps in the government’s existing response capacity.’ As Commandant Admiral Robert Papp admitted to members of Congress last week, the federal government currently has ‘zero’ spill response capability in the Arctic…In late June, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a comprehensive assessment of existing scientific data on the effects of oil and gas development in America’s Arctic Ocean. The USGS report reinforces what scientists inside and outside the government have been saying for years—we need a basic understanding of the Arctic Ocean ecosystem before we can drill there.

It’s business as usual when it comes to offshore drilling, where big oil companies can submit treacherous drill plans that include unrealistic expectations for cleaning up spilled oil with no federal scrutiny.

An oil spill in the Arctic Ocean would devastate endangered bowhead whales, polar bears, seals and other marine wildlife. An oil spill would severely impact Native subsistence communities, which have lived in this remote region for thousands of years.

 The move to allow Shell to drill in the Arctic Ocean next summer confirms a sad and undeniable truth: the Obama administration has not learned any lessons from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.