Shell Oil Company has announced it must scrap
efforts to drill for oil this summer in the Arctic Ocean off the
northern coast of Alaska. The decision comes following a ruling by
the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board to withhold critical air permits.
The move has angered some in Congress and triggered a flurry of
legislation aimed at stripping the EPA of its oil drilling oversight.
Shell has spent five years and nearly $4 billion
dollars on plans to explore for oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.
The leases alone cost $2.2 billion. Shell Vice President Pete Slaiby
says obtaining similar air permits for a drilling operation in the Gulf
of Mexico would take about 45 days. He’s especially frustrated over the
appeal board’s suggestion that the Arctic drill would somehow be
hazardous for the people who live in the area. “We think the issues were
really not major,” Slaiby said, “and clearly not impactful for the
communities we work in.”
village to where Shell proposed to drill is Kaktovik, Alaska. It is one
of the most remote places in the United States. According to the latest
census, the population is 245 and nearly all of the residents are
Alaska natives. The village, which is 1 square mile, sits right along
the shores of the Beaufort Sea, 70 miles away from the proposed
off-shore drill site.
The EPA’s appeals board ruled that Shell had not
taken into consideration emissions from an ice-breaking vessel when
calculating overall greenhouse gas emissions from the project.
Environmental groups were thrilled by the ruling.
“What the modeling showed was in communities like
Kaktovik, Shell’s drilling would increase air pollution levels
to air quality standards,” said Eric Grafe, Earthjustice’s lead attorney
on the case. Earthjustice was joined by Center for Biological Diversity
and the Alaska Wilderness League in challenging the air permits.
At stake is
an estimated 27 billion barrels of oil. That’s how much the U. S.
Geological Survey believes is in the U.S. portion of the Arctic Ocean.
For perspective, that represents two and a half times more oil than has
flowed down the Trans Alaska pipeline throughout its 30-year history.
That pipeline is getting dangerously low on oil. At 660,000 barrels a
day, it’s carrying only one-third its capacity.
Production on the North Slope of Alaska is
declining at a rate of about 7 percent a year. If the volume gets much
lower, pipeline officials say they will have to shut it down. Alaska
officials are blasting the Environmental Protection Agency.
“It’s driving investment and production
overseas,” said Alaska’s DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan. “That doesn’t
help the United States in any way, shape or form.”
The EPA did not return repeated calls and
e-mails. The Environmental Appeals Board has four members: Edward Reich,
Charles Sheehan, Kathie Stein and Anna Wolgast.
All are registered
Democrats and Kathie Stein was an activist attorney for the
Environmental Defense Fund. Members are appointed by the EPA
administrator. Alaska’s Republican senator thinks it’s time to make some
“EPA has demonstrated that they’re not
competent to handle the process,” said Sen.
Lisa Murkowski. “So if they’re not competent to handle it, they need
to get out of the way.”
"Murkowski supported budget amendments that would
have stripped the EPA of its oversight role in Arctic offshore drilling.
The Interior Department issues air permits to oil companies working in
the Gulf of Mexico.