Sep 29: A coalition of Alaska Native and conservation groups headed to court to challenge the Obama administration's decision to allow offshore oil drilling by Shell Oil in the Beaufort Sea in America's Arctic Ocean. In a release, the groups said that after the devastating Deepwater Horizon spill, the Obama administration wisely delayed plans by Shell Oil to drill in the Arctic Ocean. But this August, the administration reversed course and approved the first part of what they called "the most aggressive Arctic drilling proposal in the history of the country" by approving Shell's plans to start drilling in the Beaufort Sea as early as the summer of 2012. Earthjustice, on behalf of the Native Village of Point Hope, Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Oceana, Pacific Environment, REDOIL, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society initiated litigation in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the decision by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) to allow oil drilling in the Beaufort Sea. Earthjustice attorney Holly Harris said, "Allowing Shell to drill when it has no credible plan to cleanup an oil spill in the Arctic's icy waters, and instead simply assumes it can clean up 95 percent of oil spilled, isn't just unrealistic, it's insulting and irresponsible." The groups said, "A spill in the Arctic Ocean would devastate polar bears, bowhead whales and other marine mammals and would severely affect Native subsistence communities, which have thrived in this region for generations." Caroline Cannon, president of the Native Village of Point Hope said, "Approving Shell drilling in the Beaufort Sea is irresponsible and risks disaster. We have a right to life, to physical integrity, to security, and the right to enjoy the benefits of our culture. For this, we will fight, and this is why we have gone to court today. Our culture can never be bought or repaired with money. It is priceless." The groups indicated that the most recent oil-spill drill in the Beaufort Sea (which took place more than 10 years ago) described mechanical cleanup in icy conditions as a "failure." They provided a link to a video and report on the failure and said, "Nothing has changed since that drill. A recent report to the Canadian government concluded cleanup would be impossible 44 to 84 percent of the time during the short summer drilling season, and completely impossible the other seven to eight months of the year." They indicated that U.S. Coast Guard officials have repeatedly explained that the resources to clean up an oil spill in the waters of the Arctic Ocean simply don't exist. This summer, Commandant Admiral Robert Papp told Congress that the federal government has "zero" spill response capability in the Arctic. Additionally they cite a recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) which they say makes clear, basic scientific information about nearly every aspect of the Arctic Ocean ecosystem is missing. They said, "This lack of data makes it impossible to adequately assess the risks and impacts of drilling to wildlife and people in the Arctic and, as a result, makes it impossible to make informed, science-based decisions." Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League said, "Any oil company that wants to drill in the Arctic Ocean must demonstrate an ability to clean up oil spilled in these icy waters with proven technology. Shell's current oil spill plan is full of inadequacies and falsehoods. Shame on the Obama administration for allowing politics to trump science by approving such an unrealistic plan to drill in the Beaufort Sea." Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director for Center for Biological Diversity said, "Given the risk of a catastrophic oil spill, the Obama administration should not allow Shell to play Russian roulette with the future of polar bears, Pacific walruses and the entire Arctic ecosystem. If polar bears, walruses and other imperiled species are going to survive in a rapidly melting Arctic, we need to protect their critical habitat, not sacrifice it to oil companies." Sierra Weaver, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife said, "Both Shell and the federal government are proceeding as if the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster — the worst environmental catastrophe this country has ever seen — simply didn't happen. Pretending there's no risk associated with drilling, especially in the fragile waters of the Arctic, is not only irresponsible, it's unacceptable." Chuck Clusen, NRDC's director of national parks and Alaska projects said, "Water and oil may not mix, but ice and oil is even worse. Any drilling in Camden Bay — right off the shore of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — is unacceptable. A proper process or technology does not exist that could appropriately protect or clean up this sea. A spill could spoil the barrier islands of the Refuge threatening many species of wildlife, poison the migratory route of the endangered bowhead whale and kill other marine mammals such as polar bears, walrus and ice seals and substantially damage the very sensitive ecology of the Beaufort Sea for what could be many years." On September 19, U.S. EPA Region 10 issued final air quality permits to Shell for oil and gas exploration drilling in the Alaska Arctic. The permits will allow Shell to operate the Discoverer drillship and a support fleet of icebreakers, oil spill response vessels, and supply ships for up to 120 days each year in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea Outer Continental Shelf starting in 2012. EPA also noted that it has proposed another draft air permit for Shell to operate its drilling rig Kulluk, in the Beaufort Sea starting in 2012. Many of the same organization opposed those permits and said, "The EPA decision to issue these inadequate permits is one more step down the path toward drilling operations in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas that pose a grave danger to the Arctic environment. . ." [See WIMS 9/21/11]. Access a release from the organizations with more quotes from the organizations and links to the lawsuit and attachments (click here). Access the video of the failed cleanup and link to the report (click here). 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