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Analysis Confirms Major Risks from Oil Drilling in the Remote and Fragile Arctic Ocean

Department of the Interior releases final supplemental analysis for Chukchi Sea lease sale
Walruses in the Chukchi Sea during a tagging survey onboard the Norseman II in June 2010.

Walruses sighted in the Chukchi Sea during a tagging survey in June 2010.

Sarah Sonsthagen / U.S. Geological Survey
February 12, 2015
Anchorage, AK —

Today the Department of the Interior released its final supplemental environmental impact statement for Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193, less than two months after hundreds of thousands of public comments called its previous draft analysis flawed. The EIS isn’t the agency’s final decision about whether to end or affirm the Chukchi Sea oil leases, and Interior can still get it right. But it is a notable rushed stride toward potential environmental harm.

“The lease sale decision is a golden opportunity for the Obama administration to show leadership by deciding to keep the Chukchi Sea off limits to drilling,” said Earthjustice Staff Attorney Erik Grafe. “But Interior’s publication of the supplemental EIS for the Chukchi Sea lease today is a step in the wrong direction. The Interior is rushing through the process to cater to Shell’s drilling wishes rather than sound decision-making about an irreplaceable region already under dramatic climate stress.”

Earthjustice and other environmental groups are calling for the department to take additional time to fully inform the public about the risks of oil drilling in the Chukchi.

“Today’s impact statement confirms again that drilling in the Chukchi Sea puts Arctic people and wildlife at risk from major oil spills,” Grafe said. “It concludes there is a 75 percent chance of one or more major oil spills if the Chukchi Sea is developed, and there is no way to clean or contain such a spill. Drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean also would exacerbate climate change, adding climate insult to climate injury. The administration should end the leases.”

The final draft does not appear to fix the problems identified in the initial draft, and rather further highlights the dangers of drilling in the region to its landscape, wildlife, and people.

Background:

In January, the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals ruled that the Chukchi Lease Sale 193 was held unlawfully.  This is the second time the massive offshore oil and gas sale has been sent back by the courts. The sale, originally rushed through in 2008 by the Bush administration and unsuccessfully justified once in 2011 by the Obama administration, was based on poor science and arbitrary economic assumptions. This EIS was a response to the court’s order. After examining all of the impacts of Lease Sale 193, the Obama administration should conclude that no leasing should proceed in the Chukchi Sea. Arctic drilling is too risky to allow, proven by Shell’s disastrous 2012 drilling program.