Today, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) granted a conditional approval for Shell Oil Company’s plan to drill exploration wells in the Chukchi Sea, more than 50 miles off Alaska’s northern coast. This approval marks the fourth year since 2007 in which government regulators have approved one or more of Shell’s plans. Despite spending billions of dollars, however, the company has yet to complete a single exploration well pursuant to those approvals. Shell’s most recent effort, in 2012, resulted in a series of mishaps, problems, and near disasters, culminating with the grounding of its drill rig, the Kulluk. The company eventually had to scrap the Kulluk, and—along with some of the same contractors it proposes to use in 2015—was found to have violated important safety, environmental, and other laws. Shell has replaced the Kulluk with another drillship, and now plans to use two vessels simultaneously in the Chukchi Sea, which will increase the impacts and the cost—estimated at $1 billion for 2015.
Shell still needs other approvals before it can begin drilling this summer, but the company has begun moving its vessels toward the Arctic Ocean.
In response to today’s announcement, Susan Murray, Oceana Deputy Vice President, Pacific, issued the following statement:
“Once again, our government has rushed to approve risky and ill-conceived exploration in one of the most remote and important places on Earth. Shell’s need to validate its poorly planned investment in the U.S. Arctic Ocean is not a good reason for the government to allow the company to put our ocean resources at risk. Shell has not shown that it is prepared to operate responsibly in the Arctic Ocean, and neither the company nor our government has been willing to fully and fairly evaluate the risks of Shell’s proposal.
Shell’s own failures in 2012 and the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico rightfully make us wary of companies’ assurances. Accidents can and do happen; and there is no proven way to respond to an oil spill in icy Arctic waters. Rather than this rushed process, which will only contribute to controversy and public outcry, we need our government agencies to live up to their obligations as stewards of public resources. It is time to say no to Shell until and unless the company proves it can operate safely and without harming the Arctic Ocean ecosystem.
Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 600,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America, Asia, and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.