Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

May 27, 2010

Obama Administration halts its oil drilling permits in Arctic

Contact: Kierán Suckling (520) 275-5960

Interior to Suspend Shell Oil Drilling Permits in Alaska
Center Applauds Action, Calls for Stronger Measures, Removal of BP Exec from Interior Post
By Center for Biological Diversity
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Embattled Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will announce today that Shell Oil Company will not be permitted to drill for oil in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas this year. Amid intense protests, lawsuits, and administrative appeals by environmentalists and native Alaskans, Shell had planned to begin drilling this July.

It is not clear when the Interior Department will decide whether Shell will be allowed to drill for oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in 2011, and under what conditions.

“Suspending Shell’s drilling permit this year is the first thing Ken Salazar has done right in response to the Minerals Management Service scandals,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We applaud the Secretary’s decision and hope that he permanently ends all new offshore oil drilling in Alaska. Drilling for oil in icy Arctic waters is like playing Russian roulette. There is no way to clean up a spill there and endangered species such as polar bears, whales, walruses, and seals are already under too much stress.”

“Much more needs to be done, and done right away,” said Suckling, “including an immediate ban on environmental waivers for oil drilling, removal of BP executives from oil oversight posts in the Department of Interior, and rescinding the Interior’s plan to open up new areas on the Atlantic coast, eastern Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska to new offshore oil drilling.”

The Center for Biological Diversity call upon Secretary Salazar to immediately take the following actions::

1. Remove former BP executive, Sylvia Baca, from her job as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management. Secretary Salazar expressed outrage at the Inspector General’s finding earlier this week that the revolving door between the oil industry and the Minerals Management Service has undermined the agency’s effectiveness and credibility. He did not mention, however, that in June, 2009, he himself appointed a BP executive to oversee the Minerals Management Service.

“Sylvia Baca is a classic example of the revolving door between oil companies and the MMS,” said Suckling, “It was a terrible judgment call to appoint her; it is politically catastrophic to keep her. If Salazar is serious about reform, he needs to start with his own interest conflicted appointments.”

2. Ban the use of environmental waivers for offshore exploration and production plans. Such waivers are designed for very small impact projects such as constructing hiking trails and outhouses. There is no possible scenario in which an offshore drilling project—whether deepwater, ultradeepwater or shallow water—can be considered a non-threat to the environment, economy, and endangered species.

3. Rescind all drilling approvals issued with environmental waivers. Hundreds of dangerous offshore oil platforms are operating today in the Gulf of Mexico without having undergone any environmental review. These dangerous drilling projects are operating illegally and threaten the Gulf with additional oil spills.

4. Enact, as the Department of Interior first announced on May 6, 2010, a moratorium on the issuance of permits for “all new drilling activity.” This first Interior description of Salazar’s verbal moratorium was properly broad and would have captured the kind of drilling permit that BP’s Deepwater Horizon was operating under at the time of its explosion. The Interior has since dramatically narrowed the moratorium to let scores of drilling actions go forward, including exactly the kind of drilling that the Deepwater Horizon was doing.

5. Rescind the President’s plan to open up new areas on the Atlantic Coast, eastern Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska to offshore oil drilling. The President’s announcement, made on March 31, 2010, three weeks before the BP explosion, was made on the false premise that offshore oil drilling is safe.

6. Ban all new offshore oil drilling, beginning in Alaska. As a nation, we need to transition to clean energy sources such as sun and wind as fast as possible. Pushing forward with new, dangerous and dirty offshore oil drilling sends the wrong signal to energy companies and technology developers. Continued subsidizing of big oil is a major hindrance to our nation’s development of clean energy.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 260,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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