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Protecting the Arctic by Doing Their Job

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View Kari Birdseye's blog posts
06 July 2012, 3:38 PM
A tale of Americans hard at work
A large lead develops north of Point Hope in the Chukchi Sea during sea ice breakup in late May. Chukchi Sea, Alaska. (Florian Schulz /

Many Americans used a Wednesday Fourth of July as an excuse to take the entire week off as a holiday. Here’s a patriotic tale of two examples of those who didn’t and we thank them for it.

First off—my red, white and blue hat is tipped to the Los Angeles Times for the excellent reporting today on the not-ready-for-prime-time oil spill cleanup barge called “Arctic Challenger” being readied to head to the Arctic. It is a story that most definitely didn’t come from a Royal Dutch Shell Company press release. In fact, I’d bet the winnings from a watermelon eating contest that Shell’s folks aren’t pleased with the story at all. During these lean times for newspapers, the enterprise article on a piece of cleanup equipment, vital to Shell’s final permits to drill for oil in America’s pristine Arctic waters, is about as apple pie as it gets.

The second nod goes to the Coast Guard—for this from Coast Guard Cmdr. Christopher O’Neil, chief of media relations:

Because of the intended use of the Arctic Challenger and the harsh conditions experienced by maritime traffic in the Arctic, the Arctic Challenger is required to be able to withstand the forces generated by a 100-year storm. The operators of the Arctic Challenger contend that the 100-year standard is too stringent of a design standard, and that a 10-year [storm] standard is more aligned with historical conditions for the area of the Arctic they intend to operate [in] this summer.

Not only is the 37-year-old barge in the middle of a multimillion-dollar retrofit, which include yet-to-be-performed mandatory improvements to electrical, piping and fire protection systems, but this “Always Prepared” branch of our U.S. armed forces is requiring the barge to be able to withstand the harshest storms, most likely encountered in the Arctic. The barge will be carrying crucial oil-recovery equipment needed in the event of a well blowout.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has said that Shell will not receive the final permits needed to drill in the Arctic until this barge is ready. Up until now, it seemed as if our watchdog government agencies such as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, BSEE and EPA, not to mention Interior Secretary Ken Salazar have been only too eager to accept Shell’s word that they are equipped with the proper science and technology to drill in the Arctic. Earthjustice is in court challenging the Chukchi Sea lease sale Shell wants to drill and the air permits for its drilling pollution, because those agencies have rushed to approve Arctic Ocean oil drilling without doing their homework.

After reading the LA Times piece today and learning of the Coast Guard’s expectations of Shell’s oil spill cleanup equipment, I am hopeful that one of the world’s largest and most profitable oil companies will finally be held to meet basic environmental and safety requirements by both the Coast Guard and the American public.

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