Government Takes a Shortcut for Walrus Permits Needed by Shell for Arctic Drilling
Press Release Date: July 1, 2015
Location: Juneau, AK
JUNEAU, AK – Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) authorized Shell to take small numbers of polar bears and Pacific walrus in its 2015 exploration drilling program in the U.S. Chukchi Sea offshore of Alaska. This authorization puts Shell one step closer to drilling this summer and would allow Shell to use two drill rigs in the Chukchi Sea, so long as no two rigs are actively drilling within 15 miles of each other.
Shell and the government created a catch-22 by ignoring prior walrus regulations and doing a limited environmental assessment of Shell’s proposed drilling program. In 2013, the FWS imposed a regulation to Arctic oil drilling under the Marine Mammal Protection Act that requires drill rigs and seismic activities be separated by ‘a minimum spacing’ of 15 miles in order to avoid significant impacts to walrus in the region. Shell’s exploration plan is for simultaneous drilling by its two drill rigs, The Noble Discoverer and Polar Pioneer, at drill sites located between 2 to 13 miles apart. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) environmental assessment had a limited environmental review that did not consider drilling only one well at a time out of concern of cumulative impacts being stretched over many years. Today’s FWS authorization is not consistent with BOEM’s environmental review and conditional approval of Shell’s plans.
Chris Krenz, Arctic Campaign Manager and Senior Scientist for Oceana, reacted to today’s announcement stating:
“We are disappointed the Administration continues to move towards offshore Arctic drilling this summer. While we appreciate that the Fish and Wildlife Service continues to be concerned about drilling impacts on walrus, the appropriate course of action would be to rescind the BOEM approval of Shell’s exploration plan.
“The government put itself into a catch-22 by rushing to meet Shell’s drill timeline instead of taking the time needed to do the appropriate analyses. The government is continuing down the wrong path. Rather than take adequate time to do the job right to ensure exploration drilling will not harm walrus or other parts of the ecosystem, the government is now taking a short cut to allow Shell to drill this summer.”