Oceana and Others Challenge Shell's Beaufort Drilling Plan - Oceana USA

Oceana and Others Challenge Shell’s Beaufort Drilling Plan

Lawsuit filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to protect Beaufort Sea from offshore drilling

Press Release Date: December 15, 2009

Location: Juneau, AK


Dustin Cranor, APR | email: dcranor@oceana.org | tel: 954.348.1314


Oceana, together with a coalition of Arctic communities and other conservation groups, today filed a legal challenge to the Minerals Management Service’s (MMS) approval of Shell Offshore Inc.’s proposed exploration drilling in the Beaufort Sea.  The court challenge is based on MMS’s failure to comply with the law in evaluating impacts from proposed drilling, including the risk of a major spill and effects on bowhead whales, and its failure to the ensure that the drilling could occur safely. 

“MMS and Shell must do it right.  Americans deserve more from Secretary Salazar and President Obama than simply following an old path that puts the Arctic Ocean and Arctic communities at risk in order to serve short-term corporate interests,” said Michael LeVine, Pacific Senior Counsel for Oceana.  “We can do this the right way.  We can let science and precaution, not Shell Offshore, Inc., guide our Arctic decisions.”

Shell plans to drill wells close to shore in an area that other federal agencies—and industry surveys—have said is important for feeding bowhead whales, especially vulnerable cow-calf pairs.  The company would bring an armada of ice-breakers, a drill rig, and other support vessels and aircraft to this vital area.  This wrong approach of moving rapidly, without science or response in place, brings the substantial risk of an oil spill, noise impacts, and other pollution, all of which could have devastating effects on the marine environment and opportunities for the subsistence way of life. 

 “Some basic science still needs to be done in the Arctic to understand whether drilling can happen safely and, if so, what precautions are needed to protect Arctic ecosystems and communities,” said Dr. Chris Krenz, Arctic Project Manager for Oceana.  “With the Arctic Fishery Management Plan and National Ocean Policy Task Force, the government has shown us that it can do this the right way.  We must let science guide our decisions about whether and how drilling can occur in a changing Arctic Ocean.”

Scientists, local communities, conservationists, and other federal agencies, including National Marine Fisheries Service and the United States Coast Guard, have expressed concern about the risk of an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean.  In addition, the world eyes are focused on international negotiations in Copenhagen to address climate change, which is affecting the Arctic twice as fast as the rest of the planet.  These dual threats are particularly severe in the Arctic and put communities, marine mammals, sea birds, and other wildlife at substantial risk.

 “MMS and Shell are thinking only about getting oil, and not about the Arctic people and marine life,” said LeVine.  “While there is a lot we don’t know about the Beaufort Sea, one thing we know for sure is that Camden Bay is important for bowhead whales, which are very important for local communities.  Nonetheless, MMS approved this plan to drill there without bothering to look at the specific impacts in Camden Bay.”

Shell also has proposed a parallel exploration drilling plan in the Chukchi Sea, which is likely the beginning of a multi-year, multi-sea oil program.  Conservationists, scientists, and Alaska Native groups have similar objections to plans for the Chukchi Sea, continuing to call for comprehensive, science-based, precautionary planning for the Arctic Ocean before industrial activities occur.