Environmentalists to argue against Arctic drilling with Gulf disaster as example

By William Mccall, AP
Thursday, May 6, 2010

Environmentalists to argue against Arctic drilling

PORTLAND, Ore. — Environmentalists who are challenging plans to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean say the Gulf of Mexico disaster shows why offshore exploration should be banned in Alaska.

A coalition of conservation groups have opposed exploratory drilling by Royal Dutch Shell this summer in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska.

They plan to take their arguments to a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland on Thursday.

But the case will be heard amid cleanup efforts for one of the worst oil spills in history and a promise by the Obama administration to hold off on new drilling until the Gulf of Mexico disaster has been reviewed.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced last December the Minerals Management Service had conditionally approved plans by Shell to drill three exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea, saying environmentally responsible exploration is a key component of reducing dependence on foreign oil.

But the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico prompted 45 conservation groups and other organizations to deliver a letter to the U.S. Senate this week opposing expanded offshore oil and gas exploration.

Among those groups was Earthjustice, whose attorneys will be arguing against the Alaska drilling on Thursday in Portland.

On Wednesday, Earthjustice joined other environmental groups to send a letter to Salazar urging him to reconsider the exploratory Alaska drilling by Shell.

“Despite the different operating environments, the Deepwater Horizon spill is directly relevant to the analyses underlying your decision to approve Shell’s Arctic Ocean exploration drilling plans,” the letter said.

It noted that minerals service had acknowledged an Arctic Ocean spill could have devastating effects and be difficult to clean up but concluded a large spill was “too remote and speculative an event” to warrant analysis.

The environmental groups said the Coast Guard commandant, Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing response efforts in the Gulf, told a recent Senate field hearing in Alaska that oil spill cleanup is “significantly more difficult” in colder temperatures and the region has “limited response resources and capabilities.”

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