Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Public Employees Group Urges Scrutiny Into Review of Arctic Drilling Plans

The grounding of a drill rig in the Gulf of Alaska has sparked much concern in the commercial fisheries industry over possible adverse affects of the grounding on anticipated harvests.

Federal regulators were asked on Jan. 15 to allow public scrutiny into an emergency 60-day review of Arctic drilling plans by the Interior Department.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is urging federal regulators to meet with independent experts in open session rather than with industry representatives behind closed doors, and to create an advisory council for local residents to participate in decision making.

PEER officials noted that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has already ordered a two-month review of plans by Royal Dutch Shell to resume oil and gas exploration in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas for the summer of 2013. Salazar ordered the review following a series of incidents with Shell. These included failure of Shell’s oil spill containment dome, and more recently, the grounding of the drill rig.

“More than a self-review will be required to restore public confidence that this is not another eco-catastrophe waiting to happen, said PEER executive director Jeff Ruch.

PEER officials said noted that the British government on Jan. 15 rejected a report from a committee of the British Parliament which urged a moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic until stronger pill prevention, response and recovery safeguards are secured. But the Cameron government did agree with recommendations from British lawmakers that marine preserves are needed in Arctic waters and that local residents have a role in decision making.

“Until we can effectively address these residual risk factors, it’s time for a ‘tie-out’ in Arctic offshore drilling,” said Rick Steiner, an expert in oil spill response and retired University of Alaska professor. “Unless these uncertainties are resolved, a real catastrophe may occur.”

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