Washington, D.C. — The Department of the Interior today announced its approval of Shell’s oil spill response plan for the Chukchi Sea, a major step toward the oil company’s goal of beginning exploratory offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean this summer. The Center for American Progress’s Director of Ocean Policy, Michael Conathan, released the following statement:
The additional steps taken by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement prior to approving Shell’s oil spill response plan clearly will enhance the safety of Shell’s oil and gas exploration in the Chukchi Sea, as advocated in our recent report "Putting a Freeze on Arctic Ocean Drilling: America’s Inability to Respond to an Oil Spill in the Arctic." Specifically, requiring Shell to prepare for a worst-case discharge nearly five times the size identified in its previous plan, requiring a halt to drilling operations before sea ice accumulates, and ensuring the availability of redundant emergency capping and containment capacity are critical components of ensuring that the company will be able to respond to a blowout or spill. Managing a spill in the Arctic—which can be dark, frigid, almost inconceivably remote, and sorely lacks even the most basic infrastructure—would be a very different exercise than the massive response mustered to handle the 2010 BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, an exercise that even with tens of thousands of individuals responding in mostly ideal weather conditions still took three months to complete. Verifying the functionality of Shell’s equipment and carrying out response drills are critical steps that must yet be taken before drilling proceeds in the fragile, pristine Arctic Ocean.
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