Shell’s Inadequate Oil Spill Response Plans Threaten America’s Arctic
The Center for Biological Diversity and a coalition of conservation organizations have filed a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s approval of Shell Oil’s spill response plans for Arctic drilling.
The Center and Alaskan allies have successfully blocked offshore oil development in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas since the Bush administration first tried to open the Arctic to development through a series of lawsuits over poor environmental review and failure to consider environmental sensitivity and air quality. As a result, Shell Oil — slated to drill in the Arctic every year since 2007 — has not yet stuck its drills in the water.
Until now. At this moment, Shell’s drill rigs are headed for the Arctic and could be in place in a matter of weeks.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) rubber-stamped plans that rely on unbelievable assumptions, include equipment that has never been tested in Arctic conditions, and ignore the very real possibility that a spill could continue through the winter. The agency has failed to ensure Shell’s plans could be effective and that Shell has sufficient boats, resources and spill responders to remove a “worst-case” oil spill in the Arctic Ocean to the “maximum extent practicable.” Even after Deepwater Horizon, Interior Secretary Salazar brushed aside concerns about Shell’s spill response capabilities, stating recently that “there is not going to be an oil spill.”
The American people deserve more. There have been no tests of spill response equipment in US Arctic waters since 2000 and those equipment tests were “a failure.” Today, Shell relies on much of that same equipment, and bases its plans on the assumption that it will clean up more than 90 percent of any spilled oil. Even in relatively favorable conditions, less than 10 percent of spilled oil was recovered after the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez spills. In the Arctic, sea ice, harsh weather, high seas, darkness and wind may render even that level of cleanup impossible.
The Center will continue to fight drilling in the Arctic, a place teeming with species found in few other places, including polar bears, caribou, Pacific walrus, bowhead whales, and numerous species of seal. Learn more about the Arctic and the threats Arctic drilling poses here.
Polar bears, the first species to receive Endangered Species Act protections due to threats from global warming, are especially at risk. Not only would polar bears be devastated by an oil spill, but burning that oil will only accelerate global warming and speed their journey to extinction.
Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons/ShanePapaDiesel