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For Immediate Release, May 4, 2010

Contact:  Caroline Cannon, Native Village of Point Hope, (907) 952-8456 or (907) 830- 2727
Faith Gemmill, REDOIL, (907) 750-0188
Emilie Surrusco, Alaska Wilderness League, (202) 544-5205
Eric F. Myers, Audubon Alaska, (907) 276-7034
Rebecca Noblin, Center for Biological Diversity, (907) 274-1110
Jared Saylor, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500 x 213
Pam Miller, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, (907) 452-5021 x 24
Carole Holley, Pacific Environment, (907) 306-1180
Dan Ritzman, The Sierra Club, (206) 499-5764
Michael LeVine, Oceana, (907) 723-0136

As Gulf of Mexico Spill Worsens, Groups Challenge Shell's Air Permits to Drill in the Arctic

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— Alaska Natives and Alaska conservation groups yesterday appealed the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to issue Clean Air Act permits to Shell Oil for the company’s plans to drill exploration wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, off the north coast of Alaska, beginning in July. The permits allow Shell’s drill ship and support vessels to emit tons of air pollutants into the Arctic environment, potentially harming the Inupiat people and wildlife of the Arctic and contributing to climate change, which is rapidly melting the region.

Particularly in light of the tragic events unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, the groups are calling on EPA to ensure that Shell takes every available precaution.

Shell’s permits are multiyear Prevention of Significant Deterioration permits and are the first EPA has issued for this type of operation in the Arctic. In addition to its drillship, Shell’s operations will require an associated fleet of support vessels including two icebreakers, an oil spill response fleet, and a supply ship.

More than 90 percent of the air pollution from Shell’s drilling operations would come from Shell’s icebreakers and other associated vessels. However, the permits challenged yesterday would only apply control technology limits to Shell’s drillship, a relatively minor source of pollution from Shell’s operations, and not to these associated vessels and icebreakers.

The groups seek, through the Environmental Appeals Board, to have the EPA comply with the Clean Air Act and protect the health of the people and ecosystems of the Arctic by requiring Shell to use the best available control technology on all ships.

EPA’s permit allows Shell to spew thousands of tons of pollutants into relatively pristine Arctic air. Among other things, the permits allow Shell to discharge large particulate matter in quantities that may be dangerous to human health. Shell’s activities also will blast out potentially large quantities of black carbon, a powerful driver of climate change and sea-ice melt. The emission of black carbon into the environment would help speed climate change, warm the Arctic, and threaten Alaska Native cultures and subsistence activities.

The Arctic is under great stress from climate change. The Arctic ecosystem depends on sea ice to thrive. As climate change affects the region – the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world – this sea ice melts at a rapid pace. Scientists now predict that summer sea ice could be gone within a few decades, threatening the very existence of species such as polar bears, seals, and walrus, that make the ice their home. Unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases, including black carbon, in the Arctic will only compound the problems.

The following statement was issued today by Caroline Cannon, president of the Native Village of Point Hope: “Shell’s drilling threatens to pollute the air we breathe, and EPA needs to regulate the emissions more strongly. The drilling also risks destroying our garden, the Arctic Ocean, which we rely upon for our way of life. Our hearts go out to the residents of the Gulf of Mexico – the spill there threatens to devastate their lives. A spill here, where it could be even harder to clean up, would devastate not only our lives but our culture. It’s just too risky to let Shell drill.”

Faith Gemmill, executive director of REDOIL, said: "REDOIL, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands, supports the Inupiat in their ability to continue to live a subsistence way of life which is reliant on a healthy ecosystem. The burning of fossil fuels is the major human cause of emissions that are resulting in climate change. The current impacts of climate change on Alaska’s indigenous peoples are perpetuated by the incessant demand for energy to feed the high consumption appetite of America. Current energy policy disproportionately targets indigenous homelands and marine ecosystems and continually puts our subsistence way of life at risk. The Inupiat culture is imperiled by offshore development. This threat is compounded by climate change and vice versa. Any permit to streamline development in this fragile Arctic region should not go unchallenged, due to serious unacceptable risks associated with such projects.”

“The EPA must tell Shell to go back to the drawing board and come up with a way to use the best available technology to ensure that the health of the people of the Arctic slope and the wildlife they depend on is not further damaged by dangerous pollutants,” said David Dickson, Western Arctic and Oceans program director for Alaska Wilderness League. “What’s more, the Gulf spill has shown us that oil drilling is a dirty and dangerous business. Before any drilling plans can go forward, we must be sure that sufficient safeguards are in place to protect this pristine marine environment not only from pollution but also potential disaster.”

According to Eric F. Myers, policy director of Audubon Alaska: “The ongoing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico shows the need for strict regulation of the oil and gas industry. Whether it involves air emissions from drilling-related vessels or the ability to prevent and respond to oil spills, strong and effective regulation is needed to prevent the pollution of America’s Arctic. The Gulf blowout clearly demonstrates the need for a ‘time-out’ before Shell’s exploratory drilling is allowed to proceed in the Arctic Ocean.”

Rebecca Noblin, Center for Biological Diversity Alaska program director, said: “This appeal asks the EPA to use its authorities to do what Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has so far refused to do – say no to Shell’s unwise and unlawful drilling plan.”

“This petition asks EPA not to give a pass to the majority of the air pollution from Shell’s drilling — pollution that will accelerate climate change in the region, potentially endanger human health, and dirty the clean air of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas,” said Earthjustice attorney David Hobstetter. “Further, oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean comes with too many inherent dangers. An oil spill from exploratory drilling would have catastrophic impacts on wildlife and the communities that rely on them.”
“Shell’s drilling brings with it the risk of large oil spills. Chronic spills are a fact of life from oil and gas operations on Alaska’s North Slope, where over 6,000 spills have occurred since 1996, and more than 400 of these took place at offshore oil fields. In the icy conditions of the Arctic Ocean, there is no way to effectively clean up spilled oil,” said Pamela A. Miller, Alaska program director for Northern Alaska Environmental Center.  

Pacific Environment’s Alaska Program Co-Director Carole Holley supported Caroline Cannon’s plea: “The Arctic is rich in marine mammals, fish, and birds, which have sustained Alaska Native cultures that have inhabited the area for thousands of years. Allowing Shell’s drill rig and accompanying support vessels to belch air pollutants into the relatively pristine Arctic air, threatens the health of the ecological and cultural heritage of the Arctic.”

“Rather than drilling in the Arctic Ocean and surrounding coasts to solve America’s energy problems, we must embrace responsible measures and real 21st-century sustainable energy solutions that make cars go farther, promote conservation, invest in clean, renewable energy, and protect our natural heritage, said Dan Ritzman, Alaska Program director for the Sierra Club. “Clearly they are having trouble containing and cleaning the oil in the ‘tropical’ Gulf of Mexico – imagine if you throw in blizzards and floating ice chunks. I’ve observed oil industry spill response drills in the Arctic Ocean and there are many times during the year when the conditions prohibit any outside human activity. This remote region is the least understood area of the world, and a disastrous oil spill could leave oil in the waters off Alaska for decades, killing whales, seals, fish, and birds, and destroying feeding grounds. “

“We all want clean air and clean water,” said Michael LeVine, Pacific senior counsel for Oceana. “Shell plans a major industrial undertaking in one of the world’s most important places, and we must take a step back to find to find out how to do it right.”

Today’s appeal was filed in Environmental Appeals Board by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Native Village of Point Hope, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), Alaska Wilderness League, Audubon Alaska, Center for Biological Diversity, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Oceana, Ocean Conservancy, Pacific Environment, and the Sierra Club. The organizations are being represented by Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm.

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