How Can the Interior Secretary Really Believe an Arctic Oil Spill Won't Happen?

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This is a fake ad for Shell.

I laid into Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week, when he announced new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico with a hand-in-glove tone about the relationship with oil companies and his Department. Now, in talking about Shell's plans to drill in the Arctic, Salazar shows a scary degree of some combination of naïvité and deference to Shell.

Salazar indicated that it was highly likely that Shell's approval to drill exploratory wells in the Arctic would be coming next month—two of Shell's vessels actually left Seattle today—and then went on to comment about oil spills there. It's really hard to believe he actually said this (especially the first part):

I believe there will not be an oil spill. If there is, I think the response capability is there to arrest the problem very quickly and minimize damage. If I were not confident that would happen, I would not let the permits go forward. (New York Times)

This enthusiasm for Shell's ability to clean up spills in the Arctic comes after Shell tested a containment device for spills in Puget Sound (as in, not the Arctic). Shell claims the technology can clean up 90% of a spill.

NRDC president Frances Beinecke sums up the rational response to Salazar's irrational enthusiasm for Shell's ability to clean up an Arctic spill:

This invites an environmental nightmare of unimaginable proportions. There's no way to prevent an off-shore blowout, or to quickly cap one, as we saw so tragically in the Gulf of Mexico. Nobody knows how to contain or clean up a spill in the harsh and remote seas of the Arctic. Unless and until we can, we have no business imperiling the last wild ocean on the planet for the sake of oil company profits.

The industry’s spill response plan assumes that an emergency relief well can be drilled faster than an exploratory well. That’s never been done before under any conditions. If the industry’s wrong, and a blowout occurs late in the drilling season, there won’t be time to stop it before the winter ice chokes the site, leaving oil to gush uncontrolled for months.

Oil drilling in the United States has doubled since 2009, without putting Arctic waters at risk. This is no time to expose this fragile and precious region to a disaster we can neither prevent nor control. The way to ensure affordable energy for all Americans is to insist on responsible safeguards for domestic resource production while we invest in energy efficiency and renewable power for our future.

Tags: Arctic | Oil