Interior’s Approval of Shell’s Drilling Plan Premature

The Chukchi Sea is an incredibly remote and vulnerable region, and oil and gas drilling is a risky business.

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February 17, 2012

Washington, DC - Today, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement approved Shell’s oil spill response plan for proposed exploration drilling in the Chukchi Sea.  In response, Ocean Conservancy’s Arctic Program Director Andrew Hartsig issues the following statement:
“This approval is disappointing. The Chukchi Sea is an incredibly remote and vulnerable region, and oil and gas drilling is a risky business. Earlier this week, an exploration well on the North Slope suffered a blowout – and crews are still working to regain control. While it is an onshore gas well, it illustrates an important point that even major companies experience accidents. Despite the Interior Department’s optimism, Shell’s oil spill response plan does not ensure an effective response if a blowout occurred while drilling for oil 70 miles offshore in the Chukchi Sea.

“Under the approved oil spill response plan, Shell would need a big miracle to respond effectively to a catastrophic spill in the Arctic. The Deepwater Horizon oil disaster showed how difficult it is to respond to a major oil spill even in relatively benign conditions in an area with plenty of infrastructure. Shell’s oil spill response plan contains nothing to suggest that it would be able to respond effectively to a disaster in far more challenging conditions in the Arctic.

“Instead of clearing the way for risky exploration drilling, the Obama administration should focus on developing and implementing a comprehensive science plan before drilling goes forward. The science plan should be designed to inform decisions about whether, when, where, and how to allow drilling in the Arctic. As part of that plan, federal agencies should identify and protect important ecological areas in the region. Using that approach, we can reach the right balance of scientific progress and conservation before Shell and others are allowed to drill in the Chukchi.”

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