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Our Oceans Are Dying--And Obama Wants to Let Shell Drill for More Oil in Arctic Waters

If the major energy companies have their way, there will be no turning back until the oceans are a garbage dump.

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While the blues were feeding in Monterey Bay, Shell’s drill ships,  Noble Discoverer and  Kulluk, were migrating north, with the hope of drilling for oil in those very waters this summer. Unlike the jubilant tourists, scientists and residents of the California coast, the Iñupiat people of the Arctic coast are now living in fear of Shell’s impending arrival; and little wonder, as that oil giant is about to engage in what may be the most dangerous form of drilling anywhere on Earth. After all, no one actually knows how to clean up an oil spill that happens under the ice in the harsh conditions of the Arctic Ocean. Despite that, the Obama administration has been  fast-tracking Shell’s dangerous drilling plan, while paying remarkably little attention to the ecological fears it raises and the potential devastation a major spill or spills would cause to the native peoples of the north.

No need to worry, though: Shell swears it’s dealing with the possibility of such a disaster, even to the point of bringing in dogs “to detect oil spills beneath snow and ice.” No joke. “When it comes to drilling for oil in the harsh and unpredictable Arctic,” the  Guardian reported in March, “Shell has gone to the dogs, it seems. A dachshund and two border collies to be specific.”

The Obama administration has been no less reassuring. There will be a genuine  federal inspector on board those drill ships 24/7. And whether you’re listening to the oil company or our government, you should just know that it’s all a beautiful dream, nothing more. When a spill happens, and it’s minus 35 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind’s howling at 65 miles per hour, and sea ice is all around you and moving, the idea that a highly trained dachshund or federal inspector will be able to do a thing is pure fantasy. Believe me, I’ve been there under those conditions and if the worst occurs, this won’t be a repeat of BP in the Gulf of Mexico (bad as that was). Help will not be available.

Hand Shell this for honesty: the company has  admitted that, if a spill were to happen late in the summer drilling season (of course it won’t!), they will simply have to leave the spilled oil “in place” for nine months to do its damnedest. The following summer they will theoretically deal with what’s left of the spill, and -- though they don’t say this -- the possibility of a dead or dying sea.

The U.S. National Environmental Policy Act  requires that the government must do an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) if there is reason to believe that a proposed activity will significantly affect the quality of the human environment. The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement avoided the time consuming EIS process, however, issuing instead what is called a “Finding of No Significant Impact.”

In late June, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar  said, “I believe there will not be an oil spill” from Shell’s Arctic drilling, and proceeded full speed ahead. Know this: in 2011 alone in the Niger Delta of Nigeria, Shell  reported 63 “operational spills” due to equipment failure. That happened in a tropical environment.

Oil companies must have an approved spill-response plan before drilling can proceed. But Shell’s government-rubber-stamped plan turns out to be full of holes, including the claim that, should a spill occur, they will be able to recover  90% of all spilled oil. (In the cases of both the  Exxon Valdez and the  Deepwater Horizon disasters less than 10% was recovered.) In fact, it’s a claim from which the company is  already backtracking. On July 10, 10 environmental organizations, including the Alaska Wilderness League, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL),  filed a lawsuit challenging Shell’s spill-response plans in an attempt to stop this summer’s drilling.

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