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Shell Oil Living in a Land of Make Believe

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View David Lawlor's blog posts
19 August 2011, 2:41 PM
Earthjustice calls Shell’s oil spill response plan for the Arctic “totally inadequate”
Oil drilling platforms at Cook Inlet, Alaska. (Photo: Florian Schulz /

Apparently, Shell Oil and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) live in a land of make believe. Thankfully, Earthjustice makes its abode in a place called reality.

Earlier this month, BOEMRE approved Royal Dutch Shell’s plan to drill for oil next summer in the Alaskan Arctic’s Beaufort Sea. Putting the sled in front of the dog team, BOEMRE approved Shell’s risky drilling plan before ensuring the company had a realistic oil spill response plan. Shell’s current oil spill plan would be laughable if the consequences weren’t so dire.

Shell claims that it will be able to clean up 95 percent of an oil spill with booms and skimmers if one were to occur in the Arctic’s remote, icy waters. Never mind that only 8 percent of the oil after the Exxon Valdez spill and only 3 percent of the oil after the Deepwater Horizon spill was captured and removed from the ocean using skimmers and booms. Never mind that 23 hours of darkness, 20-foot swells and widow-maker chunks of ice riding wave crests are par for the course in the Beaufort Sea. Yep, 95 percent, piece of cake.

Fortunately, Earthjustice is not going along with the charade.

Since BOEMRE’s Aug. 5 decision to green-light Shell’s exploration drilling plan, Earthjustice attorneys have been analyzing the agency’s decision and working with the Department of the Interior to persuade it to make more responsible decisions concerning other permits Shell needs before it can drill in 2012, including realistic plans to respond to an oil spill.

“The only good news about BOEMRE’s decision to approve Shell’s drilling is that this approval is conditional,” explains Erik Grafe, an attorney in Earthjustice’s Alaska Office. “Shell still has to get all the other permits it needs, and one of those is approval of its oil spill response plan. The spill response plan Shell has submitted is totally inadequate. It is based on very unrealistic assumptions about its ability to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic. The fact is, there simply is no way to adequately respond to an oil spill in the Beaufort Sea—it is too remote, icy, stormy, dark, and foggy. Shell’s plan needs to acknowledge the difficulties of the region, not assume them away.”

Earthjustice and its clients continue to communicate with BOEMRE and other government officials to advocate for an in-depth, serious analysis of Shell’s drilling plans. In addition to its oil spill response plan, the company must also gain approval of permits to harass whales, seals, walrus, and other mammals pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Shell’s planned drilling is directly in the fall migration path of endangered bowhead whales and could block the whales from reaching an important feeding and resting area. Shell estimates that close to 5,600 migrating bowhead whales, almost half the population, could be exposed to sound and disturbance from the drilling and icebreaking that could cause them to change their behavior and avoid the feeding area. This could harm the population, particularly mothers and young calves, and could affect Alaska Native communities that rely on the bowhead whale and other species to sustain their subsistence way of life.

There is no official timeline for approval of the outstanding permits, but Shell will likely submit various permit applications throughout fall and winter 2011.

“This was a really bad decision by BOEMRE, but this isn’t a done deal,” Grafe says. “We’re hard at work trying to convince the agency to go slow and not let Shell drill until it has a realistic spill response plan and until the government takes a hard look at the risks and environmental effects of Shell’s drilling plans. We’ll be very vigilant in watch-dogging the situation and making sure Shell does not start drilling without the necessary environmental protections in place.”

peoples bibles even say the oil companies is the thing of the devil and if people do not stand against it all earth and all there on it are doom.

Does anyone here eat meat or drive cars?

Our world relies on fossile fuels right now. Good or bad, that is the reality. While you may hate companies that produce oil and natural gas, they are the companies that are focused on renewables more than any other group. Should America go the way of Spain and bankrupt the nation on a pipe dream called wave power... Oh wait, we are already bankrupt. Who is supposed to build smart grids needed to transport renewables? Thats right the power companies and corporations everyone here hates so much.

Soon though, the realizations of marine and surface life being disrupted by wave buoys, underwater turbines, solar panels, and wind farms will result in you screaming to stop building these machines because it disrupts migration.

Sorry to say it, but you're going to have to deal with the big bad corporations and if you really want to make a difference, get off the grid. I for one like my SUV, and as an avid hunter/angler, mountain biker, I love nature as well. But I am also a realist. Without companies producing profits, the changes you DEMAND they make, cant be done or they go out of business. Instead of ranting, why not help produce safety standards or technologies that make exploration, deep water drilling, fracking, etc safer?

I see you like your toys. But you will not be able to use them for long if our planet is destroyed by big Corporations. We are already in crisis. Just have a look at what one company, Monsanto, has done to the world in the name of profits. (fact)They have destroyed small farmers and even whole towns here and around the world with their infatuation with MONEY. Look at the damage they have done to the planet and will not clean up their mess. All of this in the name of PROFITS. A line has to be drawn sometime and if we don't do it, then who will?? (fact) They use their so called profits to buy politicians, lobbyists, and anyone else who gets in their way. Monsanto are using profits to benefit Monsanto and nobody else. WHen will people LEARN that making corps pay their taxes will NOT bankrupt them or cause job loss...IT IS A LIE perpetuated by politicians and the corps who pay them off.

Sadly, you appear to have a case of cranial rectosis--head in rectum. The energy companies won't seriously endorse renewable energy until they extract every last bit of fossil fuel from the Earth.

the diesel engine was designed to run on bio fuel from the hemp plant, it gives 15% more power and is clean and renewable. oil is the ruin of the earth and it made more rich idiots than any other business. we dont even have to use it. we use to run the navy on bio diesel before oil forced the take over. Ford made the hemp car and the government raided him for it. google up Ford hemp car and then you might wake up to the lie our government has become. thay are now without mercy and the stench has reached our creator. stop the drug war , close the DEA and get ride of subcontract prisons and the nation building and we can pay for the Americans that need help

It does seem as if the oil and energy companies will continue to get whatever they want regardless of who is in the White House. I really expected Obama to do more to protect the environment, but it appears as if he won't stand up to these powerful companies in their quest to get access to every last drop of oil or coal on planet Earth, no matter how remote or pristine the area. I fear that these companies, who pay little or no US taxes, will win approval of not only drilling in the Arctic Sea, but will also eventually get access to ANWR and will get the horrible Keystone XL pipeline built too. This would only be hastened by Tea Party victories in the next couple of election cycles. Part of their agenda is to dismantle as many anti-pollution laws as possible and perhaps even eliminate the EPA.

I am an oceanographer. I worked in Prince William Sound in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill. Twenty two years later, I can take you to places in the sound and will still find oil. All it takes is to dig down a foot or so. We saw the unfoldng disaster of the BP DeepWater Horizon debacle. Look how long it took to stop the gusher. That oil is in the gulf and is killing marine life everyday. It is not gone as the Obama administration and the oil companies claim.
I am outraged at the stupidity in allowing this to go forward. When will government ever learn? I have seen firsthand the devastation brought by an oil spill. I do know having done research in the Beaufort and Chuckchi Seas that an oil spill there will be catastrophic. As the article correctly points out, the effects to the wildlife and the Native communities will be immeasurabe. Just the activities alone will be disruptive to cetaceans and other marine life. This is riduculous. But let's face it people, the reason these permits are being approved is simple - the military wants the oil so that they can continue to conduct the illegal wars the US is engaged in now. We must all stand up and together and stop this! We cannot risk another DeepWater Horizon event in the arctic.
(Oh, unfortunately, ANWR or the 1002 Region boundaries end at the shoreline and does not extend out to the ocean. So, congressional authorization is not needed for offshore drilling whereas it is required to drill within ANWR, 1002 Region, the coastal plain).
Do not give up! We must fight this. I do know there are environmental agencies in Alaska (I live in Fairbanks) who are always engaged in fighting environmental destruction and degradation. Agencies such as Northern Alaska Environmental Center are on top of this. We need to form a coalition and all join forces as a single unifed front to fight this. There is strength in numbers.

Would you please direct me to where it says the Obama administration claims that all the oil in the gulf is gone. Thanks!

Very well put, Jim. Please check out
This will be a place to educate the people.
Al Gore, also has a site and a global event occurring next month. September 15. You will greatly appreciate what is getting ready to happen.
Once again, very well written.

Hasn't lust and greed for oil already destroyed enough or our Earth and it's wild and marine life. We need to be concentrating on sustainable fuel alternatives. They're already in place. We just need to get the fuels readily available to the masses.

This HUGE MISTAKE, cannot happen! What kind of sense does drilling, in this sensitive part of our planet make?? Where are the strict safeguards in place, if another catastrophe occurs?? Well, we should not sit by and allow them to further "Rape," our planet again!!!! Politics don't even figure into this--it seems none of them are fully supporting our environment----this is a "MAJOR MISTAKE!!" We as individuals need to stand up and NOT ALLOW another, HEARTBREAKING----ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!~

Hallo David Lawfor -

An excellent article on the most disappointing decision from Obama to allow Dutch Shell to drill in the Beaufort Sea -
I know that the intergity of the masses of the thousand of us who love our Earth in Earthjustice , can and Will with '"People Power" come to the fore - and extinguish the company's wish to drill.
So thank you so much for all the extreem details which are heart-rending.
But nevertheless we WILL win, and have a pristine planet by 2012 or just after as we enter into 5th density. Please keep up the good work - Susan A.

For the past eleven years the Bush Administration and many Republicans in both houses
have led a relentless attack to deregulate our environmental laws and open all public lands and waters to energy extraction. The Arctic Refuge and Alaskan coastal plains have been targeted for oil drilling and despite multiple annual petitions from the public against it BOEMRE has finally granted permission. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act specifically states that any lease shall not be issued unless "a statement setting forth the reasons for the decision, including reasons why oil and gas leasing would be compatible or incompatible with the purposes of the refuge." Where is this compatibility determination and reasons for the decision to award the lease? NEPA requirements should also be required as part of this application. Where is the NEPA documentation and who or what review agencies have seen it? How adequate are the spill prevention and clean-up plans and who made this determination? What are the plans to prevent or deal with a blow out such as experienced with BP in the Gulf of Mexico?
The Alaska Refuge and coastal plain within the boundary of the national refuge is a public trust resource and as such the people (nation wide) should have a say as to whether oil drilling leases are issued or not. The people have said NO. Section 4(d) of the National Wildlife Refuge System Aministration Act of 1966 states that the Secretary (DOI) may not permit any use or grant easements for any purpose.......including but not limited to any oil and gas leasing... or purpose unless it is compatible with the purposes of the Refuge. The oil drilling proposed by Shell is not compatible. From an ocean protection and resource management view, it is also not compatible. The Republican Party and both the Reagan and Bush Administrations have shown no interest in the protection of our oceans and have done everything in their power to allow maximum exploitation for personal and political gains. Shell paid no taxes to the USA last year but big oil still has its hand out for millions of taxpayer dollars in tax credits and subsidies. Despite the fact that the public has called for the elimination of these tax credits and subsidies the Republicans have rejected all requests. It is time for the people, scientifc community, and natural resource and regulatory agencies to rise up and demand an end to this favoritism and outright conflict of interest. These are our lands and waters NOT the oil companies nor BOEMRE.

Gib Chase, very well put. You covered all of the bases! There is no justification for what the Obama administration has done here. He was suppose to be a president that stood up for the environment and for America and the American People and he has caved every time it took any spine whatsoever to stand up to big business and the Tea Party. He promised the People that he would be there for them and do what was best for them and the country. What happened to everything that he promised when he was running for office?? It seems all of it has been thrown in the trash because he has turned his back on America and the American people time and time again. We need a very strong person in the office of the president, someone strong enough to stand up for what is right for the People the country and for the environment. Who is THAT PERSON in 2012?? I haven't seen them yet. I just hope that this person steps up and runs because after what Bush did we really need them, now, more than ever. This decision to green light shell in the first step to drill in an area that so obviously is impossible to clean up if , and when the spill does happen, and with big oils proven irresponsibility when it comes to the planet and the environment you know that it will eventually happen. I hope that all of the environmental groups get together and pool their resources to stop this before it actually becomes a reality, because once the final steps are approved you know that more will step in and want the same thing and sooner rather than later the arctic ocean will be full of oil rigs. This is something that must not be allowed. The water from the arctic flows to the oceans below and soon after a spill a lot of wildlife will be fighting to survive and we will have more species to add to the extinction list.
Please Mr President, for the first time in your presidency, stand up for America and the American People and take a stand against what you know in your heart is wrong! Do not allow drilling in the Arctic.

The oceans are already at risk. A huge number of people depend on them for food. An oil spill in the arctic will kill off ocean life all over the world. Then what? Mass starvation, mass killings to harvest the last of ocean life. Stop the oil companies before they kill all human life! To those who live in the continental interior and believe they are safe: think of the vast numbers of coastal dwellers surging inland when the fish are gone. Allowing drilling in the arctic is suicide for the human race.

I hope all of us and Earthjustice can stop this from happening. All these money grubbing bastards just want those fancy boats and nice cars, who cares about the animals the the environment that they're gonna destroy so they can have it! Shame on u!! We cannot let this happen, we need to stop it!!! Money doesn't buy happiness people, leave the Artic alone!!

One last comment: Thank you, Earthjustice, for all that you do to help our planet from the people who are hell-bent on destroying it.

I can see why Royal Shell would want to go forward - it's all about profit and greed - but what I don't understand is how a federal agency - BOEMRE - can be so anti-environmental. Is this group representing the Obama administration's anti-environmental stance or is BOEMRE just anti-environmental on its own. The oil companies have proven time and again that they don't have foolproof plans in place if there is a spill and yet the Bureau of Ocean Energy Mgt. will allow, possibly even promote, every kind of irresponsible destruction to our natural resources. I have to wonder if President Obama cares at all about our planet as he doesn't seem to and neither does this Bureau. Does Obama even know what's going on with this? I thought just the Republicans didn't care about our earth - now I see it's the Democrats as well. Is there any hope left for our waterways and endangered species?

The federal government has been taken over by contractors like an encrusting sponge, so you aren't certain of you are dealing with federal employees or contractors. I took an early retirement from the Forest Service and they were chomping at the bit for our jobs to the point that they had no idea what we may have done, and insisted we gave them accurate job descriptions. Do you remember that Mars probe that crashed due to a confusion over metric and standard measurements? That was a contractor, but it was NASA that took the heat. Contractors claimed they would save the government money, but who ever went into business to save anybody money?

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