JUNEAU, AK – Today, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) finalized rules to improve spill prevention and response requirements for oil and gas exploration drilling in the U.S. Arctic Ocean. The new rules require commonsense precautions, including the availability of a second rig to drill a relief well in the event of a blowout. The publication of these rules is the result of several years of work by the two agencies to implement lessons learned in the aftermath of Shell’s failed 2012 efforts to drill exploration wells in the Arctic Ocean and BP’s failures to contain or clean up the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The rules come as companies have walked away from Arctic Ocean leases purchased in the 2000s and the government considers whether to schedule new sales in the future. Oceana has supported these rules and encouraged the government to use them as a starting point to undertake broader reform of the regulations governing offshore oil and gas planning, leasing, and exploration.
In response to the announcement, Michael LeVine, Pacific Senior Counsel for Oceana, issued the following statement:
“We congratulate the government for taking this important step to advance spill prevention and response. The new rules should help lead to better choices by the government and companies in the future. The decisions by Shell and other companies to halt exploration and relinquish leases give us an opportunity to chart a new course in the Arctic Ocean. There is no compelling reason to sell more leases now, and the government should remove proposed Arctic Ocean sales from the 2017-2022 Five-Year Program. The reprieve will allow for meaningful review and reform of the manner in which decisions are made about offshore activities in the U.S. Fundamental reform will help ensure that future decisions are based on science and precaution, reduce uncertainty and controversy, and further commitments to take meaningful action to address climate change.
The rules announced today are both necessary and long overdue. They do not, however, ensure safe and responsible operations or address all of the deficiencies in government decisions about offshore oil and gas activities in the Arctic Ocean. There is no proven way to respond to a spill in icy Arctic waters and, as Shell unfortunately demonstrated in 2012, companies simply are not ready to operate safely in the Arctic Ocean. Until and unless companies can operate safely and without harming the health of Arctic Ocean ecosystems, the government has no business selling leases or authorizing exploration in the region.”