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A Voice for our Ocean

Arctic Drilling Could Begin This Summer

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Today, the Department of the Interior announced that it is reaffirming the 2008 sale of oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska. The decision comes on the heels of the 26th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, a disaster that left a toxic legacy in Prince William Sound. Even now, oil from the Exxon Valdez spill can be found on some Prince William Sound beaches.

Andrew Hartsig, Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Arctic Program, released the following statement:

“Today’s decision from the Interior Department means that the Arctic Ocean could soon be threatened with risky offshore oil drilling. The Chukchi Sea leases had been in legal limbo ever since the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the Bureau’s environmental analysis of the lease sale did not meet legal requirements. The Bureau opted to reaffirm the leases even though the agency’s new environmental analysis determined that there is a 75% chance of one or more large oil spills if the Chukchi Sea leases are developed. Today’s decision opens the door to potential exploration drilling in the Chukchi Sea by Shell Oil as soon as this summer.

The shallow waters of the Chukchi Sea are covered by sea ice during the long Arctic winter. But when the ice melts in the spring, it triggers a bloom of life that makes the Chuckchi Sea one of the world’s most productive ocean areas. The ice edges support a raft of phytoplankton that turn the sun’s energy into food, forming the base of a delicate food web that includes Arctic cod, seabirds, walrus, and whales.

Government assessments indicate that exploration drilling in the Chukchi Sea has the potential to disturb more than 6,000 whales and 50,000 seals, while commercial development of the Chukchi leases presents a 75% chance of a large oil spill. We still don’t have the technology to clean up a major spill in remote and challenging Arctic waters. Despite these risks, Shell Oil has already announced a plan to drill exploration wells in the Chukchi Sea if it can secure the necessary permits in advance of the brief summer drilling season.

The Chukchi Sea is too important expose to risky offshore drilling, and Shell’s exploration plan deserves intense scrutiny from federal regulators.”

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