Oceana, together with Arctic communities and other conservation groups, today filed a legal challenge in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to the Minerals Management Service’s (MMS) approval of Shell Offshore Inc.’s proposed exploration drilling in the Chukchi Sea. The groups argue that MMS and Shell have not complied with federal laws that require thorough analysis of potential impacts and protections for clean air, water, and marine life.
“We all deserve clean air and clean water,” said Michael LeVine, Pacific Senior Counsel for Oceana. “Shell, like anyone else, must comply with the law, and it is the government’s responsibility to enforce the laws that protect our air, water and ocean resources. Neither Shell nor MMS has lived up to its legal obligations in this case, and it is our responsibility to take action to make sure that our air and water are protected.”
Shell proposes to bring ice-breakers, a drill rig, and other support vessels and aircraft to a remote and biologically important area. They do so without updating basic science or examining alternatives in an environmental impact statement. With this plan comes the substantial risk of an oil spill, noise and other pollution, invasive species, and industrialization in a region facing incredible impacts from climate change, including the loss of sea ice and predicted rising levels of ocean acidity.
“Oceana, local communities, and many others have tried to work with the Obama administration to bring science back to decisions about the Arctic Ocean,” said LeVine. “Unfortunately, Shell and MMS are focused only on oil and gas, and we have been forced to go to court to have a broader conversation about clean air and water in the Arctic.”
Shell’s plan involves drilling in both the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. A challenge to the approval for drilling in the Beaufort was filed in December. Both approvals were granted based on similar cursory environmental analyses and neither evaluates the potential impacts of a major oil spill despite the Minerals Management Service estimates a 40% chance of a large crude oil spill from development in the Chukchi. Such a spill in the Arctic would be devastating for marine life and those dependent on it, and there are not yet proven methods or technologies for cleaning up a spill in icy Arctic waters.
“Air, water, animals, birds, and fish are all public resources, and the federal government must live up to its obligation to protect them,” said LeVine. “Decisions about whether, and how, oil drilling occurs must be based on sound science and respect for the public trust, and they cannot be made in a vacuum or with a bias towards short-term profits over long-term sustainability.”