Shell Suspends Arctic Drilling, Begich Responds.
This morning Shell announced that it will not drill offshore in the Alaskan Arctic this year. The announcement comes after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the federal agency in charge of issuing permits for offshore drilling in the U.S. intentionally downplayed the risks and impacts associated with drilling in the remote and vulnerable Chukchi Sea ecosystem off the northern coast of Alaska. The court ruled that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) failed to conduct adequate impact assessments before issuing permission to drill. According to the findings of the court, the BOEM “based its decision on inadequate information about the amount of oil to be produced pursuant to the lease sale 193.”
A full and fair discussion of the potential risks and impacts of drilling the leased area was therefore impossible, the court said, when only the best case scenario for drilling was entertained, the dangers were downplayed, and the amount of recoverable oil estimated to exist in the lease area by the agency (one billion barrels) was “chosen arbitrarily.”
U.S. Senator Mark Begich released a statement following the announcement.
“It is simply unacceptable that judicial overreach is getting in the way of letting Alaskans develop our own natural resources. Development in the Arctic has already been subjected to unprecedented safety standards – far more than domestic production anywhere else. I’ve worked for years to get all the federal agencies working together to permit Arctic projects, now we need to tackle the all too common legal stonewalling by outside groups. That’s why I am re-introducing my legislation to ensure there is a judicial endgame for Arctic developers when they have invested billions of dollars in developing our resources.
“ I’ll be talking with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today and expect her agency to move quickly to address the court’s questions and concerns and do everything possible to get this process back on track. Alaskans know that energy development brings not only our energy security but also our financial security, and no one knows about safe, responsible development like Alaskans do.”
It is worth noting that Shell has faced more legal prosecutions for safety and environmental transgressions than any other major oil company drilling offshore in the North Sea where it has vast holdings. And that the U.S. Coast Guard’s Admiral has warned repeatedly that there is simply no infrastructure available to clean up a major spill in Arctic waters, with the nearest Coast Guard station about 2000 miles away. There are many reasons to be concerned, not the least of which is Shell’s inability to even get their drilling rig to the Arctic without running aground and then running aground again as it tried to flee Alaskan waters in the face of an approaching storm, to avoid taxes.
When the EPA recently expanded and improved on a watershed assessment of Bristol Bay, and the impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine project, the Senator came out strongly against the mine. The Senator had been reluctant to speak out firmly against the unpopular mine while the quality and extent of the study was under dispute. After the final science was in on the potential impact of the mine on Alaska fisheries, Begich called it the “wrong mine” in “the wrong place.”
Begich, a Democrat, will be defending his seat in a high-profile race with national implications including ownership of the Senate majority. Republican challengers include the current Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, an enthusiastic supporter of drilling in all its forms, and Mead Treadwell, the current Lt. Governor who said at a recent event that the melting of the polar ice cap should be looked at as a “new opportunity” for international shipping.
Alaskans in general are supportive of the oil industry, although oil recovered through drilling offshore does not fall under the “owner state” onshore tax system (ACES, and now SB21 regulations) which directly benefits Alaskans. The profit and benefit to residents of the state from Shell’s efforts, or any offshore drilling is therefore negligible.