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The US government’s decision to approve Shell’s plan for oil exploration off Alaska’s Arctic coast triggered fierce opposition from environmentalists who fear an ecological disaster.

In May, Royal Dutch Shell won the US government’s approval to restart drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic, whose seas contain an estimated 24 billion barrels of oil according to the US Geological Survey. Abigail Ross Hopper, who is director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the body that approved Shell’s plan, said that all the possible consequences of the exploration have been considered, and that “any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards”.

However, even BOEM’s own Environmental Impact Statement warned that “there is a 75% chance of one or more large spills”, and environmentalists and campaign groups have fiercely opposed the agency’s decision, and believe it hasn’t adequately assessed the potential safety and environmental impacts of restarting drilling operations in the Arctic. In fact, especially given that the nearest coast guard station supplied with adequate equipment for facing a spill is more than 1,000 miles away, they hold that Shell’s activities are likely to lead to an ecological disaster in the region on an even greater scale than the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which caused the death of 11 people and spilled almost 5 million barrels of crude into the ocean.

In 2012, Shell had been forced to suspend its drilling operations in the Arctic due to the failure of a key piece of safety equipment that would be used to tackle oil spills and after the Kulluk, the drilling rig it was using, ran aground after it was being towed back to port. Noble Drilling, a company that was working for Shell, had to pay $12 million of fines and community payments, and Shell wasn’t able to restart its operations in the following years because of various legal problems and setbacks.

According to the executive director of Alaska Wilderness League Cindy Shogan, Shell’s 2015 are even riskier than the 2012 ones, and Tim Donaghy, senior research specialist at Greenpeace, stated that the US government’s approval of such a plan is an example of regulators “looking the other way while Shell gets away with shortcomings that could lead to a disaster in the Arctic”. Also, many say this operation could undermine the Obama administration’s efforts to tackle climate change and foster the use of clean sources of energy.


The gLAWcal Team

POREEN project

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

(Source: Guardian)