Interior Dept. Ignores Own Advice and Embraces Bush-Era Oil Leases for Arctic Drilling

Friday, April 03, 2015
Arctic Ocean, undisturbed (AP photo)

The Arctic Ocean could be subjected to potentially harmful oil exploration now that the Department of the Interior has ignored its own scientific analysis and approved leases first sold during the George W. Bush administration.


Thirty million acres in the Chukchi Sea will be opened to oil drilling by Shell under leases that the Bush administration sold in 2008.


More than a dozen environmental and Alaska Native groups sued last year to stop the drilling, which succeeded in forcing the Interior Department under President Barack Obama to take another look at the plan.


The agency’s supplemental environmental impact statement, released two months ago, warned drilling in the Chukchi Sea could have serious negative effects on the region. The analysis said if drilling goes ahead, there is a 75% risk of a large oil spill in an area where it would be virtually impossible to clean up such a mess. The sea is home to about 2,000 polar bears and is the feeding ground for gray whales.


And yet, Interior officials decided recently to allow the drilling to go ahead.


“Our Arctic ocean is flat out the worst place on Earth to drill for oil,” Niel Lawrence, Alaska director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said. “The world’s last pristine sea, it is both too fragile to survive a spill and too harsh and remote for effective cleanup.”


Other environmentalists have been equally critical of the decision and of oil giant Shell’s reputation for polluting.


“It is unconscionable that the federal government is willing to risk the health and safety of the people and wildlife that live near and within the Chukchi Sea for Shell’s reckless pursuit of oil,” Marissa Knodel, a climate campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said. “Shell’s dismal record of safety violations and accidents, coupled with the inability to clean up or contain an oil spill in the remote, dangerous Arctic waters, equals a disaster waiting to happen.”


The next step is for the Bureau of Ocean Management to conduct an environmental review of Shell’s drilling plan, which could take a month or more.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Department of the Interior Opens Gate for Risky Oil Drilling in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea (Sierra Club)

Chorus of Outrage as Obama Administration Approves Arctic Drilling for Shell Oil (by Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams)

‘Unconscionable’: New Federal Analysis Paves Way for Arctic Plunder (by Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams)

Dream Come True for Oil Companies: Obama Expected to Approve Drilling off Atlantic Coast from Virginia to Georgia (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

Obama Gives Green Light to Shell Drilling for Oil in Arctic (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Obama Moves Closer to Allowing Shell to Drill in Arctic (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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