A coalition of thirteen Native Alaskan organizations and conservation groups filed suit Thursday to stop offshore drilling operations by Shell in the Beaufort Sea of the Arctic Ocean. The project, which had been delayed after last years’ Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf, was recently approved by the Obama administration.
Shell has no credible plans to properly clean up the Arctic in the event of a spill, the lawsuit alleges, and the company’s insistence that it can clean up 95 percent of spilled oil is unrealistic in the icy conditions of the Arctic.
“If you liked the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, you will love Shell’s plan for Alaska,” said Mike Daulton, Vice President of Government Relations for the National Audubon Society. “Shell has never demonstrated the ability to effectively clean up a large oil spill in the Arctic Ocean. In addition to the usual problems handling a major spill, Alaska has huge ocean waves, gale force winds and widespread sea ice. A major oil spill in Alaska would be Deepwater Horizon meets the Titanic.”
The last oil spill in the Beaufort Sea—nearly ten years ago—described cleanup procedures in the icy conditions as a “failure.” A recent report from the Canadian government found that options for cleanup ten years later remain just as limited. The report concluded that 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.
Earthjustice attorney Holly Harris said the plan was an exaggeration of reality. "In icy conditions, the agency's own analysis and drills conducted in Alaska, suggest it [cleanup success] could drop to 3 percent or 1 percent, or ultimately, can be completely ineffective with crews just standing by because they literally can't deploy," Harris said. "It is, frankly, a hyperbolic claim to suggest, 'Don't worry, we'll clean up 95 percent of it.'”