02:00 PM

Congress calls for more science before Arctic Ocean drilling

38 members write to Sec. Salazar on Shell’s pending request to drill in Beaufort Sea

WASHINGTON (12/21/2010) -

Thirty-four members of the U.S. House of Representatives joined an effort spearheaded by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), Rep. James Moran (D-VA), Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) to ask Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to stick to his commitment to make science-based decisions on oil and gas development in the Arctic Ocean. In a letter sent to Sec. Salazar on Friday, the 38 members asked him to ensure that “we have the basic science and necessary spill response capacity before proceeding with any drilling in the Beaufort Sea and the rest of the Arctic.”

Despite a continued lack information about the Arctic’s fragile marine environment, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) is currently processing Shell Oil’s application to drill in the Arctic's Beaufort Sea, 12 miles off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in an area designated as critical habitat for the threatened polar bear that also serves as vital feeding and migration grounds for the endangered bowhead whale.

The congressional letter notes that in his Dec. 1 offshore drilling announcement Sec. Salazar called for increased science and research in frontier areas such as the Arctic while at the same time gave indications that drilling decisions could be made for the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea before scientific reviews are complete. The letter asks Sec. Salazar to demand that Shell has an adequate plan in place to respond to an oil spill in the Arctic’s icy conditions before drilling is allowed to move forward.

“The Deepwater Horizon disaster showed that catastrophic spills do happen and this likelihood must be considered as the Department completes its review of the Beaufort drilling application. In addition to missing information about basic ecological function and spill impacts, serious questions remain about the effectiveness of oil spill response capacities in the Arctic.

Considering the obstacles to cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico, it is clear that we are completely unprepared to respond to a spill in the Arctic. Gale-force winds, temperatures below freezing and persistent storms are routine in the Arctic. The Department does not know what the effects of an oil spill in the Beaufort Sea would be and Shell’s plan to respond to an oil spill is untested.

Various processes are under way to investigate the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, and offer ways to fix inadequacies in the current system and we should wait for those prior to new drilling in untested waters like the Arctic.”

Secretary Salazar also announced on Dec. 1 that BOEMRE is opening a public comment period on both a Supplemental Environmental Assessment (SEA) of Shell’s exploration plan for the Beaufort and Shell's Beaufort Sea Regional Spill Plan. Tens of thousands of concerned citizens submitted comments on Shell’s plans to drill before the public comment periods close later this week.


Read the letter to Secretary Salazar.

See the Supplemental Environmental Assessment

See Shell's Beaufort Sea Regional Spill Plan


Emilie Surrusco, Alaska Wilderness League, (202) 544-5205
Caitlin Leutwiler, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3226
Jessica Ennis, Earthjustice, (202) 295-7619
Taldi Walter, National Audubon Society, (202) 413-9176
Kristina Johnson, Sierra Club, (415) 977-5619

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.