Center Calls for Arctic, Deepwater Drilling Halt Until New Oil Spill Safety Guidelines Implemented

TUCSON, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity Tuesday called for an immediate stop to offshore drilling in the Arctic and all deepwater drilling until new safety requirements outlined in Tuesday’s national oil spill report are implemented. It also called for the withdrawal of the controversial drilling and leasing approvals that were issued in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico in the past month as the commission prepared to release its report.

“The commission has set the bar for safety and environmental protection,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center. “It’s incumbent upon Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to immediately stop all oil drilling that does not meet the new standards. Ignoring the commission puts our oceans, wildlife and economy at enormous risk of catastrophe.”

Referring to the BP explosion and spill, commission co-chair William K. Reilly stated that “Perhaps the only greater tragedy would be not implementing the reforms we recommended based on the disaster, and allowing another, similar disaster to occur.” This is, in fact, precisely what the Interior Department is now doing in allowing dangerous drilling to continue in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico. Indeed, it rushed to reaffirm controversial leasing in Alaska in December, and drilling approvals in the Gulf of Mexico last week, knowing the Commission’s report would make that politically difficult as soon as the report was released.

“The Department of the Interior saw the commission’s report coming, so in the past month it rushed through approvals of 13 deepwater drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico and reaffirmed expanded offshore oil drilling in the Arctic,” Suckling said. “Those decisions must be withdrawn until the commission’s safety standards are implemented.”

The new, 398-page report from the commission outlined dozens of important recommendations addressing the dangers of offshore drilling. Among the most important recommendations are:

  • “First, the Department of the Interior should ensure that the containment and response plans proposed by industry are adequate for each stage of development and that the underlying financial and technical capabilities have been satisfactorily demonstrated in the Arctic.”
  • “The National Contingency Plan requires the Coast Guard to oversee oil-spill planning and preparedness, and to supervise an oil-spill response in coastal waters…the Coast Guard operations base nearest to the Chukchi region is on Kodiak Island, approximately 1,000 miles from the leasing sites. The Coast Guard does not have sufficient ice-class vessels capable of responding to a spill under Arctic conditions: two of its three polar icebreakers have exceeded their service lives and are non-operational.”
  • “Interior should require, through this formal NEPA handbook, environmental impact statements for both the Five-Year Plan and for specific lease sales before plans for exploration, development, and production are approved in areas with complex geology, in ultra-deepwater, and in the Arctic and other frontier areas.”
  • “Exploration plans and development and production plans in all other areas should be subject to NEPA review consistent with the Council on Environmental Quality’s implementing regulations.”

No Arctic offshore drilling has met all these requirements, and absent prohibitively high expenditures and development of new technologies will never comply.

Most lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico have not been subjected to environmental impact statements. The 13 deepwater drilling approvals issued last week by the Department of the Interior were not even subjected to lesser Environmental Assessments but instead were granted waivers from environmental review.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity

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