On Monday, the federal government gave Shell the green light to resume its drilling operations off the coast of Alaska, although both the company and federal bureaucrats were flooded with conservationist messages on the dangers drilling operations in the area may imply.
“This decision places big oil before people, putting the Arctic’s iconic wildlife and the health of our planet on the line,”
noted Erik Grafe, an attorney at a non-for-profit law organization focused on environmental causes.
Shell’s oil and gas drilling operations off the coast of Alaska were put on hold in 2012 when a series of incidents threatened to lead to an ecological disaster in the already fragile area. In 2012, one of the company’s offshore drilling rigs ran aground on one of the state’s islands.
Conservationists criticized the company that its drilling plans were “risky and ill-conceived” from start, which could cause an environmental disaster in the Arctic. Also, Greenpeace activists criticized the federal government for failing to lead the country towards a “sustainable future” and for catering to the big oil industry’s interests.
Greenpeace noted that Shell is well-known for its reckless drilling which often edged disaster. Additionally, scientific community warned that drilling in the Arctic could have an even more devastating impact on global temperatures.
But officials from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management which ok-ed the company’s plans said that the government requested that the company would increase its protection standards in the critical ecosystem. The bureau reassured the public that drilling operations in the area would be subjected to “rigorous safety standards.”
But conservationists argued that such standards were useless without a proper assessment of the environmental and safety risks in the Arctic. Surprisingly, the federal agency admitted in its own Environmental Impact Statement that there was a 75 percent chance of one or multiple major oil spills in the area.
Environmentalists deemed the current environmental and safety assessments “rushed” and “incomplete.” They also said that the BOEM’s decision was at odds with the government’s official policy of tackling climate change by gradually moving to greener energy.
Activists also warned that Arctic Ocean drilling could lead to a much more severe ecological disaster than the one in the Gulf of Mexico five years ago. Back then, eleven people died and about 5 million of barrels of crude reached the ocean.
Shell indirectly replied to accusations by saying that it won’t resume Arctic drilling operations before it had fully tested and prepared its contractors and tools for a safe exploration of the area. The company disclosed that it would start drilling this summer.
The Anglo-Dutch oil giant also deemed the federal decision a major milestone that underscored the “confidence” regulators had in its plans.
Three years ago, Shell’s drilling operations in the Arctic were suspended after a series of incidents threatened the local ecosystem – a piece of safety equipment failed to work properly and a drilling drill suddenly ran aground. Shell’s contractor was fined $12 million. But although the oil company tried to resume operations in the following years, it failed due to legal issues.
Image Source: Soi Delegation