Shell Gets Permits for Arctic Drilling: 'A Genuine Long-Term Stimulus Plan’

October 25, 2011 - 11:19 AM

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(CNSNews.com) – The Shell oil company plans to start drilling multiple oil and gas exploration wells in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukckhi Seas next summer, unless environmental activists can persuade the Environmental Protection Agency to change its mind.

The EPA on Friday issued an 87-page air permit for Shell’s Kulluk drillship to explore for oil and gas in the Beaufort Sea on Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf. And last month, the EPA issued a permit for Shell’s Discoverer drillship to begin similar work in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea.

“We look forward to drilling in 2012 and validating what we believe is a valuable national resource base,” Shell said, noting that the approval process has taken almost five years.

The American Petroleum Institute says drilling in Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf “is a genuine long-term economic stimulus plan."

But on Monday, the environmental group Earthjustice filed an appeal with the EPA, challenging its decision to issue a permit for Shell's Discoverer drillship. “Arctic Ocean oil drilling is simply a bad idea,” said Earthjustice attorney Colin O’Brien:

“In an area with 20-foot sea swells, walls of ice 6 feet thick, and complete darkness two months out of every year, the thought of cleaning up an oil spill is ludicrous. The EPA’s decisions on these air permits moves us closer to the inevitable disaster that would be a large oil spill in the Arctic Ocean.”

Shell said it plans to employ “world-class technology and experience to ensure a safe, environmentally responsible Arctic exploration program – one that has the smallest possible footprint on the environment and no negative impact on North Slope or Northwest Arctic traditional subsistence hunting activities.

And in case of disaster, Shell said it is prepared to deploy “the most robust Arctic oil spill response system known to the industry.”

Earthjustice says the EPA, by issuing air permits for two drillships, “essentially is green-lighting dangerous Arctic Ocean oil drilling” in “one of the most remote places on earth.”

Not only is the drilling “risky,” but the ships and support fleet will “double the amount of global warming pollution” produced by North Slope households, Earthjustice complained.

“This permit for the Kulluk marks the beginning of a wave of potential offshore industrial activity in the Arctic. Unfortunately, on the eve of a potentially massive influx of oil company development, the EPA has turned a blind eye to the cumulative impacts that would be harmful to the health of Alaska Natives and the environment for years to come,” O’Brien said.

The EPA says it issued the final air permits after “carefully” reviewing and considering the many public comments it received.

The American Petroleum Institute says Shell has been prepared to explore in Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf since 2007, but regulatory and legal challenges have prevented it from drilling a single well -- until 2012. During this same period, API noted, Shell has been able to drill more than 400 exploration wells elsewhere around the world.