Donate Sign up for e-network
CENTER for BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY Because life is good

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

Find out more from the
Center for Biological Diversity:
Arctic Oil Development 

Seattle Post Intelligencer, January 22, 2014

Federal court deals latest blow to Arctic oil drilling
By Joel Connelly

The federal government failed to adequately evaluate environmental risks and the potential size of oil spills when it approved oil drilling in Alaska’s remote Chukchi Sea, a federal appellate court ruled on Wednesday.

The ruling, by a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, once again throws into doubt plans by Shell Oil to begin drilling for oil in Arctic waters.

Shell experienced repeated mishaps when it tried to drill in 2012, and did not return to the Chukchi last year.

The court said the feds’ Bureau of Ocean Energy Management relied on an estimate of 1 billion barrels of potential production, but overestimated in a way that was “arbitrary and capricious.”

The case was remanded back to U.S. District Judge Ralph Bestline in Alaska.  Bestline has already once before, in 2010, held up Arctic exploration because of flaws and inadequate evaluations of environmental risks.

The federal government, under the Bush administration, sold offshore oil leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off Arctic Alaska.

Shell Oil shelled out more than $2 billion on acquiring leases.

Environmental and some native groups have furiously opposed the leasing.  They have cited the power of storms coming from Siberia, the distance (1,000 miles) from any Coast Guard presence, and the inability to clean up any spill beneath ice-choked waters.

Shell launched its Chukchi drilling in the summer of 2012.  Just about everything that could go wrong DID go wrong.

Drilling ships were late in arriving from the “lower 48.”  The spill-containment barge, being prepared in Bellingham, failed its tests.  The drilling ship Noble Discoverer lost its moorings and nearly went ashore on Unalaska Island in the Aleutians.

Last but not least, the conical drilling ship Kulluk — which had been re-equipped at great cost — broke loose from its moorings and ran aground on New Year’s Eve on an island in the Gulf of Alaska.

Shell did not return in 2013, but has filed drilling plans in 2014.  The company has reported falling profits, however, and has noted the high cost of drilling projects.

“We are reviewing the (9th Circuit) opinion,” the company told Alaska news organizations.

The feds’ estimates on production were challenged by environmental groups including Oceana, Defenders of Wildlife, the National Audubon Society, the Center for Biological Diversity, as well as the native village of Point Hope.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the Arctic,” the plaintiffs said in a statement.  “The government has no business offering oil companies leases in the Chukchi Sea.  The area is home to iconic species such as polar bears, bowhead whales, and to a vibrant indigenous subsistence culture.”

They left out one key species.

The Chukchi is increasingly a feeding area for gray whales, which migrate north from Baja California all the way to Alaska, passing through inland waters of Washington and British Columbia each spring.


This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton