Shell Wins ‘Safety’ Permit From Obama Administration To Start Dangerous Drilling In Arctic Seas

“The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) today issued an approval of Shell Gulf of Mexico, Inc.’s Oil Spill Response Plan for the Beaufort Sea,” the Department of Interior agency tasked with approving oil spill plans has announced. Shell plans to drill up to four shallow water exploration wells in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea this summer, beginning on July 1. The expansion of offshore drilling into the dangerous and fragile Arctic seas not only threatens that ecosystem with unmanageable disaster, but represents a reckless disregard for the urgency of decarbonizing the global economy to avoid the risk of unstoppable global warming.


Michael Conathan, Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress, released the following statement:

We appreciate the administration’s commitment to holding Shell to rigorous standards when drilling in the fragile and untested Arctic. Still, it’s surprising and disappointing that the Department of the Interior will allow drilling activity to continue through the end of October, when it specifically cut short Shell’s Chukchi Sea operations 38 days earlier because of concerns about severe weather and icy conditions. The raging winds and encroaching ice will be no less severe in the Beaufort than they will be in the Chukchi.


While the Department of the Interior and Shell have taken critical steps to enhance safety and preparedness, the fact remains that with the nearest permanent Coast Guard facility over 1,000 miles away, no major roads, railroads, or ports along the North Slope, and extreme and unpredictable weather patterns, any coordinated response effort would be daunting — a challenge that increases exponentially in a longer drilling season. For this reason, we recommended shortening the duration of the drilling in our recent report, “Putting a Freeze on Arctic Ocean Drilling: America’s Inability to Respond to an Oil Spill in the Arctic,” which includes a map detailing the lack of resources and existing infrastructure to respond to an environmental disaster off the North Slope.