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Gulf Deep Water Oil Drilling Challenge

Case Number # 2141

A review of Shell’s plan shows that a spill at the company’s proposed drilling site, 72 miles off the Louisiana coast, could yield 400,000 barrels of oil a day, more than six times the amount spilled in the BP disaster. Dark clouds of smoke and fire emerge as oil burns during a controlled fire ('in situ burn') in the Gulf of Mexico on May 6, 2010. (U.S. Navy Photo / Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Stumberg/Released)
A spill at Shell’s proposed drilling site, 72 miles off the Louisiana coast, could yield 400,000 barrels of oil a day, more than six times the amount spilled in the BP disaster.
Above: Dark clouds of smoke and fire emerge as oil burns during a controlled fire ('in situ burn') in the Gulf of Mexico on May 6, 2010. (U.S. Navy Photo / Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Stumberg/Released)

Earthjustice is representing the Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network and the Florida Wildlife Federation in challenging the federal government’s flawed environmental risk assessment of Shell Oil Company’s plan to drill for oil in deep Gulf of Mexico water near the site of BP’s catastrophic 2010 well blowout. The suit alleges that the government’s calculations grossly understate the blow-out risk and that Shell’s drilling plan places communities at risk of another major oil spill along the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts.

The federal agency has based its analysis on a 1-in-4000 chance oil spill risk scenario even though industry documents show the chance of a major spill at 1-in-43. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) approved Shell’s plan after concluding that “an accidental spill event is not very likely to occur,” but BOEMRE’s oil spill risk calculations are in error and understate risks by ignore relevant risk factors well known in the industry. Among other things, BOEMRE bases its total risk calculations on the experience of drilling in shallow waters—which have a very low blow-out risk—rather than on the ultra-deep water high pressure formations that have a very high blow-out risk. The Shell plan is in the deep waters where the BP spill occurred and Shell now plans to drill.

A review of Shell’s plan shows that a spill at the company’s proposed drilling site, 72 miles off the Louisiana coast, could yield 400,000 barrels of oil a day, more than six times the amount spilled in the BP disaster. In addition, Shell’s exploration plan anticipates the company using the same type of “blowout preventer” that failed at BP’s Deepwater Horizon well last summer. Shell’s plan says the company is prepared to deal with an uncontrolled blowout because it is a founding member of the Marine Well Containment Company (“MWCC”) and will have access to an integrated subsea well control and containment system that can be rapidly deployed. However, the MWCC does not expect to have its system in place and ready to be deployed until 2012, long after Shell expects to begin drilling.

Press Releases

Thursday, December 15, 2011
Reforms haven’t been made to prevent another disastrous oil spill
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Conservation groups: Address lessons of last Gulf oil spill before allowing new deep water drilling