Despite multiple assertions from President Obama and Secretary Ken Salazar to the contrary, the Department of Interior recently announced that the Shell oil company would be permitted to drill in Alaska’s Beaufort sea.
“Shell executives say that the climate for negotiations has since improved and that the E.P.A. is moving the process along at a faster pace,” reports the New York Times. “They also complimented the Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement for moving quickly in submitting data to a federal court in Alaska in a lawsuit challenging Shell’s 2008 lease sale in the Chukchi Sea, west of the Beaufort in the Arctic.”
In 2010, Arctic exploration and drilling permits were suspended following the catastrophic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Environmentalists and ocean scientists have asserted that an underwater oil spill in the freezing cold waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas would be almost impossible to clean up and would spell disaster for endangered species living there.
In early 2011, Shell announced that it would forgo its arctic drilling plans for the year after a federal court revoked clean-air permits that allowed drilling ships and support vessels to operate in the sensitive region.
“Proceeding with oil and gas drilling at this time is simple and plain lunacy. America’s Arctic is our last frontier, and this magnificent ecosystem supports a vast array of marine mammals: whales, polar bears, walrus, ice seals” said Chuck Clusen, an employee at the National Resources Defense Council (Bloomberg).
“The planned drilling activity is right in the migration path of endangered bowhead whales which live in these icy waters,” reports Care2′s Jake Richardson. “It could prevent them from reaching a feeding and resting area they have been using for some time. Additionally the noise of drilling and ice breaking could disrupt their normal feeding and resting, which might harm mothers and young calves.”
By allowing offshore drilling to commence without a clear idea of the environmental impact or a firm plan for cleaning up a spill in an extremely remote location, the Obama administration once again demonstrates that it is more concerned with getting industry on its side rather than actually protecting America’s delicate Alaskan ecosystems.
Luckily, it is too late for Shell to begin drilling this season, giving environmental organizations time to file an appeal.
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