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EPA Issues Air Permits for Arctic Ocean Drilling

Move opens the path for drilling in remote, pristine waters as early as 2012
September 19, 2011
Anchorage, AK —

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued air permits authorizing the Shell Oil Co. to drill for oil and gas in America’s Arctic Ocean as early as 2012. The 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 for use in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. The permits are a second attempt after the EPA’s reviewing court, the Environmental Appeals Board, determined the original permits did not meet Clean Air Act requirements.

An arctic tern chick seeks refuge from the wind under the warm feathers of its mother. Barrier Island, Beaufort Sea. (Florian Schulz / visionsofthewild.com)

The following statement is from the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Oceana, Pacific Environment and The Wilderness Society:

“The EPA decision to issue these inadequate permits is one more step down the path toward drilling operations in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas that pose a grave danger to the Arctic environment. Shell’s fleet of drilling ships will release many tons of harmful pollutants into the air, dump chemicals into the water, generate loud noises that will disturb threatened and endangered wildlife and create the risk of a catastrophic oil spill. The EPA’s green light to these permits is another decision made without basic science and comprehensive planning.

“Despite readily available technology that could reduce this pollution substantially, the EPA did not require modern pollution controls on all of Shell’s vessels and equipment. The pollution from these ships combined with oil drilling from Shell’s other drilling vessel, the Kulluk, and activities from other oil companies in the Arctic Ocean would have cumulative effects that could greatly harm local wildlife and elevate harmful pollution levels in Alaska Native communities.

“The final permits also fail to impose requirements that assure compliance with new standards, including the limit on 1-hour nitrogen dioxide concentrations. Even short term exposure to elevated nitrogen dioxide levels can have adverse health effects.

“In addition, the EPA has failed adequately to account for the full impacts of Shell’s operations on Alaska Natives, especially the potential that greenhouse gas and black carbon emissions will accelerate Arctic warming to the detriment of Alaska Native communities and traditional cultural activities. The failure is particularly worrisome given this week’s reports that Arctic sea ice cover melted over the summer to near record lows.

“We are disappointed the EPA has decided to issue permits that are less protective than they could and should be. This is yet another step toward Arctic Ocean oil drilling by the Obama administration without first obtaining critical baseline science and without ensuring that a large oil spill could be cleaned up in the remote, stormy, and icy region. We are reviewing the permits and will be making decisions about the next steps based on that review."

Contacts

Erik Grafe, Earthjustice, (907) 277-2500, ext. 7102

Brendan Cummings, Center for Biological Diversity, (760) 366-2232, ext. 304

Pam Miller, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, (907) 441-2407

Suzanne Struglinski, Natural Resources Defense Council, (202) 289-2387

Michael Levine, Oceana, (907) 586-1593

Carole Holley, Pacific Environment, (907) 306-1180

Lois Epstein, The Wilderness Society, (907) 272-9453, ext. 107

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.