Some ominous news about the Arctic from the Obama administration almost escaped attention yesterday, amid Copenhagen climate conference hoopla and the EPA’s determination that greenhouse gases are a public health hazard.
Sec. of Interior Ken Salazar announced that Shell Oil Co. has been granted conditional approval by the Minerals Management Agency to drill three exploratory wells next year in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast. Approval comes even though the government has yet to resolve legal problems with a Bush-era five year leasing plan opening vast areas of the Arctic Ocean seabed to oil and gas activities.
Reading between the lines, Salazar sounded a bit too positive about what the drilling means:
By approving this exploration plan, we are taking a cautious but deliberate step toward developing additional information on the Chukchi Sea.
The Chukchi approval follows recent approval by MMS of Shell’s plans to drill in the adjacent Beaufort Sea in 2010. Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe warned that the approvals outpace the science of what we know about Arctic waters:
Oil and gas development is spreading rapidly across the Arctic. Before moving forward we need to develop the missing science about the Arctic Ocean and the impacts of drilling and a better comprehensive plan for protection of the Arctic.
The Environmental Protection Agency still has to approve an air permit for the Chukchi drilling.