Shell secures permits to drill for oil in America's Arctic waters in 2012.
A Coast Guard crew conducts research in the Alaskan Arctic's waters in July 2011. Photo courtesy NASA/Kathryn Hansen
A massive oil spill announced this week off the coast of western Sweden feels like an ominous harbinger for America’s Arctic Ocean.
Just days following the spill near the Swedish island of Tjörn, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued air permits for Shell Oil’s plans to drill in the Alaskan Arctic in 2012. EPA issued the permits despite the fact that Shell’s oil spill response plan for the region’s icy, remote waters is totally inadequate.
Sweden’s disaster serves as a cautionary tale for America’s Arctic Ocean.
The spill near Tjörn—a small island renowned for its natural beauty—is killing birds, polluting the shoreline and may not be cleaned up until next summer, threatening the area’s tourist industry. Bad weather is complicating spill response efforts (hmm, I wonder if they ever get bad weather in the Alaskan Arctic?), and locals who want to help have been turned away as the spill’s toxic nature is a serious threat to human health.
Shell’s Arctic drilling would involve many large ships, and the EPA’s permits are for air pollution coming from the stacks of the drill ship Discoverer and associated drilling fleet in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. This is Shell’s second go-round on obtaining the air permits after the EPA’s reviewing court, the Environmental Appeals Board, determined the original permits did not meet Clean Air Act requirements.
We are disappointed the EPA decided to issue permits that are less protective than they could and should be. Green lighting Shell’s plans for 2012 is another step toward Arctic Ocean oil drilling by the Obama administration without first ensuring that an oil spill could be cleaned up in the region. Earthjustice attorneys are reviewing the air permits and will make decisions about the next steps based on that review.