Feds Approve Drilling Plan for the Chukchi Sea | Oceana

Feds Approve Drilling Plan for the Chukchi Sea

Press Release Date: December 7, 2009

Location: Anchorage, AK


Anna Baxter | email: abaxter@oceana.org
Anna Baxter

The Minerals Management Service has approved Shell’s plan to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea next summer.  The decision comes after a similar approval in October for drilling in the Beaufort Sea and is the first approval needed for the project to take place in both seas.  The proposed exploration drilling was approved after minimal environmental analysis and would occur on leases in the Chukchi Sea that Oceana and others have claimed in court were sold illegally.

“Science and precaution, not Shell Offshore, Inc., should be guiding our Arctic priorities. We need to take a breath, do the science, and make sure we can deal with an oil spill in the icy waters of the Arctic before we consider drilling,” said Michael LeVine, Pacific Counsel for Oceana.  “This decision is and not in the best interests of the American people, who deserve—and clearly support—science and safeguards before considering offshore drilling.” 

This decision opens the door to a succession of drilling rigs, ice breakers, tankers, aircraft, and other support vessels in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas next summer.  With them comes the substantial risk of an oil spill, noise and other pollution, invasive species, and industrialization in a remote part of the world.  All of this in a region facing incredible impacts from climate change, including the loss of sea ice and predicted rising levels of ocean acidity.

“It is our hope that the other federal agencies reviewing Shell’s proposal will more carefully look at the scope of the proposed drilling, the risks, and the potential impacts to the ocean and people dependent on it,” said LeVine.  “A piecemeal approach—especially where we lack basic science about a changing region—risks letting significant impacts slip through the cracks.”

Scientists have been clear that we lack basic scientific information about the Chukchi and Beaufort seas and that the potential impacts of seismic testing, oil spills, wastewater discharge, and other aspects of oil activities are poorly understood and potentially catastrophic.  More than 400 scientists from 20 countries sent a letter to Secretary Salazar in late September urging him to defer oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean until careful research can determine where and under what conditions it could be safely conducted.  According to the Chukchi Sea Final Environmental Impact Statement, the Minerals Management Service predicts a 40% chance of a large crude oil spill from development.  Such a spill in the Arctic would be devastating to marine life and those dependent on them, and there are not yet proven methods or technologies for cleaning up a spill in icy Arctic waters.

“If we drill for oil we’ll likely spill oil, and right now we can’t clean it up,” said LeVine.  “Rather than rushing to drill, we need science and safeguards to guide decisions about whether to allow oil and gas activities and, if so, when, where, and how.”