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Obama Is Fast-tracking an Environmental Disaster to Please Big Oil

No comprehensive scientific study on the Arctic Ocean has been conducted by this administration, yet the most dangerous form of drilling is about to take place there.

Photo Credit: Armin Rose/ Shutterstock.com


What do Arctic drilling and drone killing have in common? They are both being decided by Barack Obama without public debate. Also oil is a common ground—drilling will produce it and drones will burn it—to kill people, animals, and habitats. Both issues must be debated publicly. You have read about drone killing, I’ll tell you about Arctic drilling.

A May 24  front–page article in The New York Times made clear that Obama got personally involved and fast–tracked Shell’s drilling permits. Shell did their part by launching a massive ad campaign and lobbying hard in the Beltway, while the company’s Alaska executive Pete Slaiby according to the Times “traveled to remote villages and chewed raw whale meat while listening to local concerns.” None of this was a surprise to us fighting this issue for years now.

According to Foreign Policy magazine, “Barack Obama has become George W. Bush on steroids.” The article makes this reference with regard to Obama’s drone killing, but perhaps a similar thing could be said about his Arctic drilling that we must condemn.

We fought hard and defeated Bush’s repeated attempts to sell off the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Big Oil—the most biodiverse conservation area in the circumpolar north that also supports two indigenous communities—the Gwich’in and the Iñupiat. But even during the super–oily Bush–era the National Research Council conducted an extensive and first of its kind Arctic study that was chaired by renowned scientist Professor Gordon Orions of the University of Washington in Seattle. The study concluded with a 288–page book Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska’s North Slope published by the National Academies Press (download free  PDF). For the first time, all of us could understand in plain language the cumulative effects of more than three decades of oil drilling on land—on the ecology and human cultures of Arctic Alaska.

Know this now: despite repeated appeals by the Iñupiat people and conservationists, the Obama administration refused to do an Environmental Impact Statement, a thorough public process (italics added to emphasize key issues)—on the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas where Shell’s drilling would take place. Also, know that no comprehensive scientific study on the Arctic Ocean has been conducted by this administration, yet the most dangerous form of drilling is about to take place there—no one knows how to clean up oil from underneath the ice in the extremely harsh environment of the Arctic.

The administration has rubber–stamped Shell’s permits after permits through a fast–track process; and while doing that tried to silence a top federal Arctic scientist Dr. Charles Monnett, who had exposed threat to polar bears caused by climate change, by suspending him last year, to promote Arctic drilling—The Guardian  reported. Because of sustained complaints from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility the administration’s attempt backfired, and instead the head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE)—the agency that suspended Monnett—came under investigation.

There is no infrastructure in the Arctic to respond to a spill. The nearest Coast Guard station is more than 1,000 miles away. During the Bush administration several federal administrators responsible for regulating offshore oil drilling operations “had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives”—The New York Times  reported. It was bad news but easy to understand.

It seems to me that a far more sophisticated approach is taking place about offshore drilling safety and regulations—monkeys are now in charge of protecting bananas! On March 7, The Hill  reported, “Charlie Williams, a former scientist at Shell, will become the executive director of the Center for Offshore Safety.” The fine–named center was formed by Big Oil in the aftermath of BP’s Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. Charlie Williams also serves in the BOEMRE’s Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee. He had worked for Shell for 40 years, and since 2005 was Chief Scientist—Well Engineering and Production Technology for Shell worldwide.

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