What's at Stake
The Arctic Ocean is a thriving, diverse ecosystem that provides habitat for some of the planet’s most iconic species, including polar bear bears, walrus and bowhead whales. Earthjustice is challenging Shell Oil’s plans for preventing and cleaning up an oil spill in the remote, icy waters of the Arctic Ocean.
Earthjustice is representing several clients to challenge the federal government’s approvals of Shell Oil’s spill response plans for the Arctic Ocean. Earthjustice brought the challenge in the Alaska District Court in July 2012. The lawsuit focuses on two spill plans—the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas spill plans—but ultimately it addresses requirements that apply nationwide. This case brings into focus the recognition that the federal government must ensure an oil company is prepared to clean up an oil spill before the spill happens, especially in locations as remote and challenging as the Arctic Ocean.
Specifically, the case challenges the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s determination that the spill plans satisfy the statutory standard that Shell must prove the company is ready to cleanup a “worst case” oil spill to the “maximum extent practicable” in “adverse weather conditions.”
The case also challenges the agency’s failure to conduct any NEPA environmental review or engage in ESA consultation before approving the plans to understand the consequences of the spill response choices. For example, the agency should have considered the effects of Shell’s proposal to apply chemical dispersants in the Arctic Ocean, including threats to fish, birds, and marine mammals, including the endangered bowhead whale.
A federal judge in Anchorage upheld oil spill plans for drilling in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas submitted by Shell Oil, despite a challenge issued by a coalition of conservation organizations. The coalition, represented by Earthjustice, had charged the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement of conducting a flawed approval process and disregarding the terms of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Royal Dutch Shell announced it will suspend all activity in the Arctic for 2013. The oil giant endured many embarrassing and costly accidents while drilling exploratory wells off the north coast of Alaska in 2012. Both of the Arctic drill rigs will be traveling to Asia for repairs sustained during the severe weather common to the Arctic.
With one Arctic drill rig shipwrecked on an Alaskan island and the other reportedly under criminal investigation for possibly “operating with serious safety and pollution control problems,” oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is doing a pretty thorough job at proving the quest for oil in the pristine waters of America’s Arctic is just too dangerous, too dirty, and too damaging. The week’s events also prove once again that the U.S. Department of Interior should not have approved drilling in the most remote, dangerous place on the planet.
A group of conservationists represented by Earthjustice opposes the American Petroleum Institute’s participation in a lawsuit aimed at establishing the federal government’s responsibility to evaluate the safety of products used to clean up oil spills. API, which is the primary national trade association of the oil and gas industry, has moved to intervene in the lawsuit, something environmentalists view with suspicion.
Shell Oil has until the end of October to wrap up drilling operations in the Arctic.
This week, a great piece of photojournalism illustrates just how close their Kulluk drill rig is to the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Earthjustice fought for years to protect.