Drawing battle lines over impending Arctic Ocean oil drilling – while House Republicans advance radical offshore drilling expansion bill

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Will the Obama Administration bend environmental protection rules and set aside scientific concerns to allow Shell Oil to proceed with Arctic drilling this summer? A Shell drilling ship has failed to meet EPA clean air standards and Shell also has failed to meet Coast Guard certification standards for its oil spill containment barge. Shell has already acknowledged the obvious, that when it ‘encounters’ an oil spill in Arctic waters, it can’t say that it will actually be able to recover oil.  As the battle lines are drawn for a new stage in the fight to protect one of the world’s last wild places from high-risk fossil fuel development, where will the Administration come down?  Meanwhile, continuing to lower the bar for the Administration to look reasonable, House Republicans will mark up a bill this week to allow oil development in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans along most of the East and West coasts, and in Alaska’s salmon-rich Bristol Bay – all off-limits under the Administration’s offshore drilling plan.

Shell Oil is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to let Shell drill in the Arctic this summer, even though its drilling ship failed to meet pollution standards. This is hardly surprising, says Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen. Shell has consistently failed to prove it can protect the Arctic from drilling impacts. See “Shell’s Promise to Protect Arctic Lost at Sea: Drilling proposals foreshadow larger struggle over Arctic.” Van Noppen writes:

Despite many years of promises and assurances, the oil industry remains woefully unprepared to adequately respond to a major oil spill caused by exploration drilling. The nearest Coast Guard station is more than 1,000 miles away. The infrastructure to clean up an oil spill doesn’t exist. And government scientists admit that we have much to learn about the basic ecology of the region as well as the impacts that oil drilling will have on the Arctic environment.

So far, these concerns have largely fallen on deaf ears in the Obama administration, which seems content to rely on the hope that no spills occur on its watch. The administration appears to be on track to allow some exploration drilling to proceed this year, despite Shell’s broken promises. …

Despite the lessons that the Obama administration and oil industry claim to have learned from the Gulf oil spill—a mere two years ago—the government has failed to ensure that the oil company is prepared to confront the harsh realities of cleaning up an oil spill in the Arctic. … Even in relatively favorable conditions, less than 10 percent of spilled oil was recovered using booms and skimmers after the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez spills. In the Arctic, sea ice, harsh weather, high seas, darkness and wind may render even that level of cleanup impossible.

Is drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean another disaster waiting to happen? Does the decision to begin permitting offshore drilling in the Arctic establish a fait accompli under relentless political and corporate pressure to expedite further development of fossil fuel resources, regardless of environmental and scientific concerns?

‘The lamentable truth,” said Nature in a September 15, 2011, 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.”

MEANWHILE:

Not content with offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean and expanded deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the House Natural Resources Committee has scheduled a July 18 markup (press release and maps used below here) of a bill to allow oil drilling in the ocean along the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts and in Alaska’s Bristol Bay – areas that will remain off-limits under the Administration’s 2012-2017 five-year offshore drilling plan, unless the plan is overturned by Congress.

The Natural Resources Committee plan would allow drilling in the green and blue areas:

H.R. 6082 expanded oil drilling plan

The Administration plan (below) will leave the green areas open but close the red areas to drilling:

Obama Administration offshore drilling plan

The Administration estimates its plan, including new Gulf leases and Arctic drilling, will allow access to three-fourths of known US oil and gas resources.

Regardless of its fate in the House, this appears to be another in a series of election-year political theater actions by congressional Republicans aimed at generating campaign talking points, i.e., in this case, blaming sane environmental protection policy for the unemployment problem. It hardly seems likely that the Senate will act on this measure.

See also, at Climate Progress:

Shell Loses Control Of Arctic Drilling Rig In Alaskan Harbor

Shell Fails To Get Its Arctic Oil Spill Barge Certified By The Coast Guard

Shell Clarifies: It Can ‘Encounter’ 95 Percent Of An Arctic Oil Spill, Not Collect It

Earlier posts:

Obama administration to expand offshore drilling in Alaska and Gulf of Mexico

Still drunk on oil: Obama’s speech in Cushing

End Polluter Welfare Act would eliminate more than $110 billion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry

“Smog Rules” — Obama, scientific integrity, and environmental policy

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