Thursday, May 20, 2010


Native Alaskan leaders ask Washington to halt planned Shell drilling of oil in Alaska while MMS eats cake

by Larry Geller

Despite the ongoing disaster at the BP well in the Gulf of Mexico, Shell Oil plans to begin drilling off the coast of Alaska in six weeks. The trouble is, it would be exceedingly difficult to clean up any spill in Arctic conditions. There are chunks of ice that prevent ships from moving, and if the spill occurred in winter under the ice, it would just spread unchecked.

Two engineers with extensive experience in the oil industry said on Capitol Hill today that Shell Oil’s plans to begin drilling off the coast of Alaska in less than six weeks are fraught with risks that have not been adequately addressed by the company.

As the BP oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico continues to worsen, WWF has called upon President Obama and Secretary Salazar to halt Shell’s planned drilling until the Deepwater Horizon disaster has been fully investigated and the technology and procedures have been put in place to respond to and clean up a spill in the harsh, remote waters of the American Arctic.

“We still don’t have a full picture of what went wrong in the gulf and we need to make sure we don’t sow the seeds of disaster in this very, very special place,” said WWF President and CEO Carter Roberts, referring to the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

For the native Alaskan communities along the North Slope, an oil spill could be devastating to their culture and way of life, which is entirely dependent on the sea for subsistence hunting and fishing.  Several Native Alaskan leaders visited the gulf coast earlier this week to observe the unfolding disaster first-hand.  They are now in Washington, D.C., urging federal leaders to prevent a similar catastrophe in their back yards by halting Shell’s proposed drilling.   [eNews Park Forest, Shell Oil Unable to Assure Safety of Arctic Drilling , 5/20/2010]

The MMS Alaska Office's "Drill Baby Drill" Cake

The BP disaster has put the spotlight on the federal Minerals Management Service (MMS) for favoring industry needs over protection of the environment. Despite the Gulf oil leak, MMS has let Alaska drilling proceed. Worse: without reviewing whether any spill in the Alaskan sea can be contained, they appear to be celebrating the industry.

As The New York Times reports, "the Alaska branch deliberately avoided establishing consistent guidelines for determining whether future leases would cause significant environmental impacts in the Arctic." It's hard to get past the Marie Antoniette moment at the end:

    Shortly after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar proposed reconfiguring the agency, John Goll, the head of the Alaska region, called an “all hands” meeting, according to a staff member there.

    Afterward, people lingered to eat a cake decorated with the words, “Drill, Baby, Drill.”    [Project on Government Oversight, Oil Ganache: The MMS Alaska Office's "Drill Baby Drill" Cake, 5/20/2010]


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