Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe provided this reaction to the announcement from Shell Oil that it would not pursue offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean in 2011. The drilling was planned for waters just offshore the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and directly in areas used by endangered bowhead whale for migration, feeding and resting. The proposed drilling threatened to harm wildlife and coastal Alaska Native communities that depend on the ocean to sustain their unique subsistence culture.
“We need to apply the lessons from the Gulf before we decide whether to drill in Arctic. Shell’s plans were ill conceived from their inception because there is no way to clean up an offshore oil spill in the Arctic Ocean.
“Shell was still required to obtain a number of authorizations before it could have drilled in 2011. It required an authorized exploration plan and consideration of revisions to its oil spill plan from the Department of Interior, permits from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to incidentally harass marine mammals, and air and water discharge permits from EPA, to name a few. When the government addresses any future plans by Shell to drill in the Arctic, it must fully consider the impacts of that drilling and make sure that any permits it issues to the company comply with environmental laws that protect the water, air, people, and wildlife of the region. The first step in this process is to understand and disclose the impacts of Shell’s drilling by preparing a full environmental impact statement that looks closely at the drilling plans and includes a meaningful opportunity for public comment.
“Before any offshore oil drilling occurs in the Arctic Ocean, America needs a better base of scientific information and honest spill prevention and response plans for cleaning up a large oil spill in the Arctic Ocean’s remote, dark, stormy and icy conditions. The Obama administration needs to complete its reform of the broken offshore agency, the former Minerals Management Service, and address the problems that led to the Deepwater Horizon spill.”