Obama conditionally allows drilling in Arctic

The Obama administration gave conditional approval today to allow Shell Gulf of Mexico to start drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean this summer, the New York Times reports. The approval is seen as a major victory for the petroleum industry and a setback for environmentalists.

“We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea,” the paper quoted Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, as saying in a statement. She said that the administration recognized the need to establish high standards for the protection of the Arctic ecosystem as well as the cultural traditions of Alaska Natives and that the offshore exploration “will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards.”

Safety standards are critical—and the Obama administration says they have been enhanced—when it comes to drilling in the Arctic: Waves regularly rise to 50 feet. The nearest Coast Guard station with equipment that could be pulled in for a rescue attempt is more than 1,000 miles away. And, the area where Shell could start drilling as early as this summer is a major migration route and feeding area for marine mammals, including bowhead whales and walruses.

Shell still has to get approval for the drilling, a process that’ll take what I hope will be a careful look at its safety procedures. However, government officials note that the drilling would take place in waters that are no more than 140 feet deep, unlike the infamous Deepwater Horizon off the Gulf coast. BP drilled down to the sea floor there through more than 5,000 feet of water, ended the lives of 11 people, and dumped millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in a 2010 accident that was caused, in part, by the buckling of a section of drill pipe. The buckling caused a supposedly fail-safe blowout preventer to fail, and new regulations, we’re told, have made blowout preventers safer.

But, “once again, our government has rushed to approve risky and ill-conceived exploration in one of the most remote and important places on Earth,” the Times quoted Susan Murray, a vice president of Oceana, an environmental group, as saying. “Shell has not shown that it is prepared to operate responsibly in the Arctic Ocean, and neither the company nor our government has been willing to fully and fairly evaluate the risks of Shell’s proposal.”

Editorial

In exchange for decimating one very pristine, natural place on our planet, we’re going to get two or three generations, at most, of crude oil. Estimates put the amount of oil under the Chukchi Sea, where Shell plans to drill, at about 15 billion barrels, tops. It’s not worth the chance we’re taking that an unrecoverable accident will happen, and it’s not worth investing in fossil fuels that do nothing but destroy the planet.

A 2012 TED Talk by climate scientist James Hansen

Californians are suffering now from a drought. Texans are suffering from violent storms, including killer tornadoes. As climate scientist James Hansen explains in the TED Talk shown above, an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which comes in part from emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, causes an increase at both ends of the water cycle. There is increased drought because the air is warmer, but storms are more violent because warm air holds more moisture.

We believe every part of this drilling plan is wrong, and we hope Shell comes to its senses. We’re not holding our breath, but the oil we’ll get out of this new drilling isn’t worth the risks we’re taking by allowing Shell to drill for oil in one of the most treacherous places on Earth.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.