Environmentalists have been encouraged by many actions of the Obama administration, especially moves to restrict mountain top removal mining and limit industrial carbon emissions that have been linked to global warming.
However, a recent a move by the the Minerals Management Service, part of the federal Department of the Interior, to allow the Shell Oil Company to begin drilling exploratory oil wells in the environmentally-sensitive Beaufort Sea is giving some conservationists flash backs to the Bush administration.
According to a report by the Guardian UK, the MMS “gave Shell the green light to begin exploratory wells off the north coast of Alaska in an Arctic area that is home to large numbers of endangered bowhead whales and polar bears, as well as walruses, ice seals and other species. The permission would run from July to October next year, though Shell has promised to suspend operations from its drill ship from late August when local Inuit people embark on subsistence hunting.”
During the Bush era, the possibility of allowing oil companies to drill in the Arctic was staunchly opposed by environmentalists who cited industrial levels of noise, air and water pollution as potential hazards to the endangered species who make their homes there.
“…Permission for exploration in the Beaufort Sea, widely condemned by environmentalists, was struck down last year by a federal court on grounds that it had failed sufficiently to consider the impacts on bowhead whales and the subsistence activities of Inuit populations. The ruling was later set aside and Shell withdrew its drilling plans” (Guardian UK).
While the permission granted recently only allows the international oil company to begin drilling exploratory wells, it sets a frightening precedent for what might be allowed to occur in the very near future. We all remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill that is still wreaking havoc in the Prince Edward Sound area of Alaska.
There are fears “that any drilling [in the Beaufort Sea] could lead to oil spills which would be impossible to clean up amid the Arctic’s broken sea ice.”
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