The entire future of Shell’s drilling plans in the Arctic was put in doubt on Friday after two of Barack Obama’s most trusted advisers called for a permanent halt to oil exploration.
In a piece for Bloomberg news, Carol Browner, who was Obama’s climate adviser during his first two years in office, and John Podesta, who headed his 2009 transition team, said they now believed there was no safe way to drill for oil in the Arctic.
Their opinions come at a critical time for Shell, which has invested six years and nearly $5bn trying to gain access to the vast undersea reserves of oil and natural gas in the Arctic ocean.
The Obama administration this month launched a high-level review of Shell’s plans for the Arctic, after a series of equipment failures and safety and environmental lapses.
The company is also struggling to repair or replace its Kulluk oil rig, which ran aground over the New Year, in order to return to the Arctic when the drilling season re-opens in July.
Now two of Obama’s advisers are suggesting Shell and other companies should not be operating in the Arctic at all.
“Developers and Barack Obama’s administration assured us these operations would be safe, thanks to strict oversight and new technology. Now it seems that optimism was misplaced,” Browner and Podesta write in a piece for Bloomberg View.
“Following a series of mishaps and errors, as well as overwhelming weather conditions, it has become clear that there is no safe and responsible way to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic ocean.”
The Obama administration has decided to allow Shell to drill in Arctic waters off the Alaska coast, saying that for the time being the company must not go so deep as to hit actual oil because its troubled oil spill containment barge isn’t ready.
Thursday’s decision to allow preparatory drilling represents a huge step in Shell’s controversial effort to explore in the Chukchi Sea. It shows the Obama administration, while not yet giving the green light for Shell to drill into oil-bearing geologic formations, is taking steps to help the company do so if possible this summer.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Shell will get a permit allowing it to drill about 1,500 feet into the seafloor.
“We believe that there is no oil in that area. We have confidence in that conclusion, otherwise we would not be allowing this limited exploratory effort to move forward,” Salazar said Thursday.
Interior Department officials said the drilling will allow for the later installation of a blowout preventer.
Washington — A group of Democratic senators is calling for the Interior Department to halt future Alaska offshore drilling leases, saying the president hasn’t made the case that drilling in the environmentally sensitive region is safe.
“Challenges with infrastructure and spill response are unprecedented in the Arctic’s remote, undeveloped region,” the senators wrote Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Senators signing the letter this week were Richard Durbin of Illinois, Barbara Boxer of California, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. They questioned the oil spill response capabilities in the Arctic and said there needs to be a better scientific monitoring plan. They also want more areas off limits.
The senators urged the Interior Department to remove Arctic offshore drilling from its 2012-2017 leasing program. An Interior Department spokesman had no response to the letter on Wednesday.
The Obama administration’s proposed offshore oil leasing program includes a pair of potential sales in the Alaska Arctic. That would be a 2016 sale in the Chukchi Sea and a 2017 sale in the Beaufort Sea.
“We are committed to moving forward with leasing offshore Alaska, and scheduling those sales later in the program allows for further development of scientific information on the oil and gas resource potential in these areas and further study of potential impacts to the environment,” Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes said when the plan was announced in July.
“This has been a vindication of Dr. Monnett in that they found no scientific misconduct or anything related to his scientific work that merited any sort of discipline or personnel action.”
—Jeff Ruch, director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility • Speaking on the case of Dr. Charles Monnett, who had been under investigation by the Obama administration for the past two and a half years. First the investigation focused on suspicion he had falsified data in a 2004 article relating to climate change, and the plight of polar bears exhausting themselves swimming between too-distant ice sheets, thus risking drowning. They then examined whether Monnett had improperly awarded research contracts, of which he was also cleared. In the end, a minor reprimand for sending government information without authorization was all the ordeal would yield – info that was later used in court to block the interior department from approving new oil drilling by Shell. To Jeff Ruch’s mind, this fact was central to the effort against Monnett by the Obama administration: “[The reprimand] reads as if it was motivated by attempts during the Obama years to clog leaks and root out environmental dissidents inside the department of interior having to do with Arctic drilling.” source