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For Immediate Release, March 28, 2012

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, (415) 632-5308

Feds OK Unproven Oil-spill Response Plan in Arctic; Move Toward Offshore Drilling Off Virginia

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced approval today of Shell Oil’s unproven oil-spill response plan for offshore drilling in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska. At the same time, the secretary announced plans to move forward with seismic exploratory surveys for oil in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Virginia. Both announcements move these areas that have largely been closed to offshore drilling closer to becoming industrial oil fields.

“It’s deeply disappointing that President Obama is choosing to ignore the enormous risks of opening the Arctic Ocean to oil drilling,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “All signs point to environmental disaster if an oil spill were to occur in the harsh Arctic waters — it’s just absurd that Shell’s unproven response plan got the green light.”

Drilling in the extreme conditions of the Arctic — home to the most pristine ocean habitat in the world for polar bears, whales and walruses — could put human lives and wildlife at risk. Shell’s oil-spill response plan relies on largely untested technology. Incredibly, the company claims that it can recover 95 percent of an oil spill in the Arctic, even though just 3 percent of oil was recovered in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill. In the Arctic, where the nearest Coast Guard station is 1,000 miles away, oil spill crews would likely face harsh, icy, stormy and remote conditions that would make clean up vastly more difficult than in a place like the Gulf of Mexico.

Earlier this year, Shell Oil sued the Center and other environmental organizations, asking the court to declare that its oil-spill response plan for the Chukchi Sea was adequate — a move seemingly aimed at intimidating organizations opposing Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic this summer.

The government today also announced plans to conduct seismic surveys along the Atlantic coast in hopes of finding oil deposits that could lead to leasing Atlantic waters for offshore drilling. The seismic surveys pave the way for new drilling.

“Seismic surveys are, in and of themselves, very harmful to marine life. The blasts are like explosions that can cause hearing loss, disturbance and even stranding for animals like whales,” said Sakashita. “And besides hurting marine animals, these exploratory surveys are the gateway to more risky drilling.”

The Center and its allies are part of a pending lawsuit challenging seismic surveys for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico that were approved without the permits needed under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act.

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