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100,000 tell Obama administration to redo Arctic drilling assessment

Citizens demand science-based decision making that protects Arctic marine environment

WASHINGTON (11/30/2010) -

More than 100,000 people asked the Obama administration to stick to its commitment to science-based decision making and redo a court-ordered environmental analysis of impacts from proposed drilling in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea.

Known as the “garden” to Alaska’s Inupiat people and home to the iconic polar bear, the Chukchi Sea has in recent years become a target of the oil industry and Shell Oil in particular, despite the fact that the Arctic’s marine environment is the least understood area in the world and there is no known way to clean up a spill in the Arctic’s icy waters. In February 2008, Shell and other oil companies leased 2.76 million acres of Arctic waters for nearly $2.7 billion. This summer, an Alaska District Court judge told the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) that its’ environmental analysis of Chukchi Lease Sale 193 was legally inadequate.

BOEMRE’s original Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) noted a lack of information in hundreds of areas but failed to explain how this missing information might affect their decision process. BOEMRE then proceeded to quicklydraft a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) that isnothing more than an attempt to justify the decision to proceed with the lease sale. In the draft SEIS, BOEMRE’s Alaska regional office makes an across the board determination that none of the missing information was essential to a reasoned choice and that, no matter the impact, drilling should be allowed to proceed. Their assessment dismisses the need to collect missing science and discounts potential negative impacts on entire species of Arctic wildlife.

One hundred thousand people responded through the comment period on this draft SEIS and demanded that the agency go back to the drawing board and prepare an adequate and informative draft SEIS, reengage in a public comment period and consider anew in light of this new information whether to cancel, modify, or affirm its decision to hold Lease Sale 193.

The following are statements from conservation groups working to protect the Arctic: 

“The message is clear that Americans are not willing to stand by and watch the Arctic’s natural treasures be sacrificed to the interests of Big Oil – and BOEMRE shouldn’t be either,” said Sierra Weaver, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “Unless the agency is going to follow in the footsteps of the broken and ineffective MMS, it must re-evaluate the implications that oil and gas exploration may have for the fragile Arctic environment.”

“The Alaska Region of BOEMRE refuses to answer the tough questions about Arctic drilling and is willing to pay any price to allow that drilling, even a risk of the extinction of some Arctic species,” said Cindy Shogan, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League. “This is outrageous. Secretary Salazar should not let this decision be finalized and must fulfill his promise to clean up his Alaska house.”   

“Drilling in the Arctic Ocean could have even more catastrophic consequences than the recent Gulf Disaster. If President Obama wants to demonstrate that he has more respect for science than Bush did, then he should halt all oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean until the relevant information can be analyzed,”said Becky Bond, Political Director of CREDO Action.

“Allowing oil and gas drilling in America’s Arctic Ocean without sound scientific analysis ignores the lessons of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this summer,” said Jessica Ennis, Legislative Associate at Earthjustice. “The Alaska BOEMRE office needs to recognize that the days of inadequate science and reckless permitting are over. An oil spill of any size in the Arctic Ocean would have devastating effects that would last for decades. Affirming its decision to hold Lease Sale 193 without proper scientific analysis is simply a bad idea.”


See how Defenders is working to protect American shores from the dangers of offshore drilling.

Learn more about the threats offshore drilling poses to the Arctic.


Caitlin Leutwiler, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3226
Emilie Surrusco, Alaska Wilderness League, (202) 544-5205
Jared Saylor, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 213

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.  With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.  For more information, visit www.defenders.org.