Twelve groups have announced their intent to bring a new challenge to a Lease Sale which sold nearly 30 million acres of the Chukchi Sea’s outer continental shelf for oil and gas drilling and which the courts have twice sent back to the U. S. Department of Interior.
To remind, Shell plans to spend around $1 billion for its drilling campaign in Alaska this summer. The company encountered various difficulties regarding its Arctic drilling plans including opposition from eighteen U. S. senators and protests in the Port of Seattle where the Polar Pioneer rig is docked and it is expected to be prepared for drilling offshore Alaska.
Yesterday, June 1, 2015, Earthjustice filed a report informing the Alaska federal district court that the Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Pacific Environment, REDOIL (Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands), Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and World Wildlife Fund intend to challenge Interior’s decision to reaffirm the Chukchi Sea lease sale.
According to Earthjustice, the Department of the Interior’s decision to affirm the lease sale poses unacceptable risks to the Arctic and the planet. Earthjustice notes that in reassessing the environmental effects of the lease sale, Interior disclosed that there is a 75 percent chance of one or more major oil spills if the leases are developed in the Chukchi Sea. There is no way to contain or clean an oil spill in Arctic Ocean conditions, and a spill could have catastrophic consequences for the people and wildlife of the region, Earthjustice said.
Threat to walruses’ habitat
The organization continues to explain that drilling activities under the lease sale threatens essential habitat for walruses and other wildlife in and around the rich and fragile Hanna Shoal. The imperiled Pacific walrus population, including a large proportion of mothers and calves, relies on the food-rich foraging area during the summer months. Walruses have limited access to food due to shrinking sea-ice cover, and drilling can cause herds to move away from their limited remaining foraging areas. Shell plans to start drilling in this critical area as soon as July.
Limiting effects of climate change
Earthjustice further says that the lease sale decision also is directly contrary to President Obama’s commitment to take essential action to limit the worst effects of climate change for future generations. The best available science makes clear that drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean is not compatible with meeting the 2 degree Celsius cap for global warming agreed to by the world’s nations, and many countries now are saying that 2 degrees of warming is too much.
“Despite all these major problems and others, Interior rushed the decision to affirm the lease sale to meet Shell’s desired schedule to drill on leases this summer, producing a flawed and unlawful decision,” Earthjustice concludes.
“Drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean only will hasten climate change at what is already ground zero for global warming,” said Earthjustice Staff Attorney Erik Grafe, who is representing the 12 groups.
“Drilling in the Arctic has never made sense from a risk perspective, and Shell proved that in 2012 when its drillship ran aground,” said Center for Biological Diversity Alaska director Rebecca Noblin.