Shell: Gulf Oil Spill Proves Its Case to Drill in Arctic

Surely, the nation and its president won't be smooth-talked this time

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It’s hard to imagine—as we watch oil billowing into the Gulf of Mexico and washing into coastal wetlands—that Shell Oil is using this out-of-control scenario to bolster its case to drill this summer in offshore Arctic waters.

Shell officials promised federal officials yesterday that it has learned the lesson of the Gulf and will have on hand all the safety goodies British Petroleum didn’t—items like that containment dome (that failed), dispersants (toxic), robots and divers.

These assurances from Shell might carry some weight if we hadn’t already been fed the same smooth line last year by BP in documents it filed with the Minerals Management Service—the federal regulatory agency that is being radically reorganized and is the focus of a presidential commission and eight congressional hearings because of its snuggly relationship with the oil industry. The Mobile Register did some snooping in those documents and came up with this:

"In its 2009 exploration plan for the Deepwater Horizon well, BP PLC states that the company could handle a spill involving as much as 12.6 million gallons of oil per day, a number 60 times higher than its current estimate of the ongoing Gulf disaster.

In associated documents filed with the U.S. Minerals Management Service, the company says that it would be able to skim 17.6 million gallons of oil a day from the Gulf in the event of a spill.

As of Tuesday, BP reported recovering 6 million gallons of oily water since the ongoing spill began four weeks ago. BP spokesman Tom Mueller said that only about 10 percent of the skimmed liquid was oil, which would amount to about 600,000 gallons of oil collected thus far.

Meanwhile, deep in America’s heart, the shock of the Gulf spill and what it portends for drilling in places like the Arctic is well-stated in this editorial comment from the Kansas City Star:

In a recent decision to allow Shell to drill in the Arctic Ocean, the Minerals Management Service said the probability of an oil spill at exploration was "insignificant." But the Deepwater Horizon disaster should now prompt considerably greater caution about drilling in such places, which pose immeasurably more hostile conditions.

Well said. It’s basically what Earthjustice has been saying for years in our strong opposition to offshore Arctic oil drilling. Now, with the Gulf disaster growing in front of the nation’s eyes, we can only hope President Obama sees what we all see: the need to stop before it’s too late for the Arctic.

From 2006–2014, Terry was managing editor for Earthjustice's blog, online monthly newsletter and print Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine.