“There’s been no fundamental reform that can keep the Gulf of Mexico or the Arctic safe from the next spill catastrophe.” the Center for Biological Diversity noted in response to the announcement today that the Obama administration plans to expand offshore oil drilling in the Gulf and offer additional lease sales in the sensitive waters off Alaska. “A U.S. Geological Survey report concluded that key scientific information is lacking for the development of oil and gas in Arctic offshore waters; effective spill cleanup in this remote area is nonexistent.”
In Washington, how many times have we seen concerns about sustainability muscled aside by the relentless pressure to expedite further development of fossil fuel resources? “The lamentable truth,” said the journal Nature in a September 15 editorial, “is that in the world of US politics, environmental protection is still debated as if it were an optional and expensive accessory to modern living. In the process, science is set aside.”
The Associated Press reported today (“Obama to expand drilling off Alaska, in Gulf“):
…Environmentalists expressed dismay at the decision to proceed with drilling in the Arctic.
The announcement came on a day when a near-record storm was expected to pound the western Alaska coast. The focus was in the Bering Sea, but the National Weather Service said winds of 65 to 70 mph with gusts to 90 mph also were expected along the Chukchi Sea coast.
“How do you drill a relief well? How do you put a containment system in place in those conditions? It is a very challenging situation up there to say the least,” said Marilyn Heiman, the Arctic Program Director for the Pew Environment Group.
William H. Meadow, the president of The Wilderness Society, said in a statement the lease sale plan “continues to take America down the road of putting big oil first, threatening our few remaining pristine areas with drilling and spilling.”
“It is too soon for the administration to say that they will have the necessary science, the proven spill-response techniques, and the needed response capacity and onshore infrastructure by the time of their proposed Arctic Ocean lease sales,” he said.
The American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry trade group, was also not pleased. Erik Milito, head of the group’s production section, called it “a missed opportunity” to address rising energy demand, jobs and the deficit. Royalties from energy production on public lands are one of the largest sources of income to the federal government.
The plan falls well short of proposals passed in the House and touted by Republicans running for president, who want to vastly expand drilling. …
From coverage by Reuters:
While the drilling plan will emphasize the Gulf, [Interior Secretary] Salazar said the department also recognizes the Arctic as an area that is important for drilling.
The plan includes lease sales in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, but the areas would be opened up late in the five-year period to allow for more studies on spill response preparedness.
Royal Dutch Shell already holds leases in the Arctic it bought during the administration of George W. Bush, but legal and regulatory hurdles have prevented drilling so far. …
Environmentalists have been critical of opening exploration in the Arctic, warning that the region’s extreme climate would make an oil spill more complex and costly to clean up compared to an accident in the Gulf.
“Spill prevention, containment and response systems are not equipped to work in challenging Arctic conditions,” said Athan Manuel, the Sierra Club’s director of Lands Protection Program. “In short, when there is a spill in the Arctic, we will not be able to clean it up.” …
The American Petroleum Institute called the administration’s plan a good first step, but wanted additional areas opened.
WASHINGTON— The Obama administration announced plans today to expand offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and offer additional lease sales in the sensitive waters off Alaska. Ramping up offshore drilling raises the risk of disastrous spills, puts wildlife in harm’s way and deepens U.S. dependence on the fossil fuels driving the global climate crisis.
“Last year’s disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was supposed to be a wake-up call about the dangers of offshore drilling, but it looks like President Obama hit the snooze button and slept right through it,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We just can’t keep expanding offshore drilling and not expect to have more disastrous spills.” …
“Gulf of Mexico communities are still reeling from the impacts of last year’s oil spill, and now the president wants to put those same communities at risk again,” said Sakashita. “The administration’s claiming significant steps have been taken to make drilling safer, but in fact there’s been no fundamental reform that can keep the Gulf of Mexico or the Arctic safe from the next spill catastrophe.”
The plan proposes to sell leases in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas, home to all of America’s polar bears. A U.S. Geological Survey report concluded that key scientific information is lacking for the development of oil and gas in Arctic offshore waters; effective spill cleanup in this remote area is nonexistent. The Coast Guard’s top official, Commandant Robert Papp, told Congress that the federal government currently has “zero” spill response capability in the Arctic. …