Earlier today Secretary Salazar announced an interim decision that he is allowing Shell Oil to begin exploration drilling operations in the Chukchi Sea, even though required spill response equipment isn’t ready. Final drilling approval has not been granted, pending the certification of an oil spill response barge and approval of the spill containment system in Washington State. When the Administration conditionally approved Shell’s Chukchi drilling plan in December, it said “[p]rior to commencement of exploratory drilling operations” Shell must have its Arctic containment system approved by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Secretary Salazar reiterated today that this containment system is a required element of Shell’s operations, but that neither the spill response barge nor the containment system has been approved.
Following is a statement from Earthjustice attorney Holly Harris in Alaska:
“Secretary Salazar promised the most heavily scrutinized operation in the world, but so far when push comes to shove, the administration is not holding Shell to its commitments.
"Shell has known this barge and the containment system were required for months, but has failed to meets its safety and spill response obligations and even its basic deadlines. Nonetheless, the Secretary today announced that he will let Shell move forward with preparatory work and drilling without the required oil spill response equipment.
"Today’s announcement also made no mention of the disturbing trend of broken promises and questionable actions by Shell in recent weeks. Shell has admitted that it cannot comply with the terms of its Clean Air Act permit. Instead, Shell is asking the Environmental Protection Agency for a waiver. Shell also backed away from the fact that it based its oil spill cleanup plans on the assumption it will remove 95 percent of spilled oil before that oil reaches shore, now claiming that it will only 'encounter' the oil. Shell also lost control of its Noble Discoverer drillship near Dutch Harbor, Alaska a few weeks ago, but never explained why it happened or why it won’t happen again.
"The Administration promised scrutiny, but we’re not seeing it yet. Enough is enough—it is time for the Administration stop making excuses for the one of the most profitable companies in the world."