Shell Oil recently was approved for exploration and drilling in the Arctic Chukchi Sea amid fervent protest and controversy. Highly scrutinized and condemned, this operation has high risks associated with the process. Regardless, Shell and government regulators have failed to date to furnish any safety protocol or reliability projections to the public sector.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has subsequently filed suit against federal offshore drilling regulators to produce the documents reviewed by third parties outlining strategy for safety protocol and drilling plans. The crux of the documents disclose spill containment systems tests and oil response drills.
“[Shell and its regulators] still will not release their certifications where we can be clear that they have done their compliance, that they have done their job,” said Rick Steiner, a marine conservationist and former University of Alaska professor. “Shell says everything is fine but they won’t show it.”
Shell was required to test its spill containment system again this time around, but it remains unclear how well it performed. Steiner told Truthout that the public deserves answers to these “technical risk-management questions” before Shell begins drilling in “high-risk hydrocarbon zones.”
“We want to see the records, we want to see exactly what they did to function test this and exactly how it performed,” Steiner said.
A blockcade in Portland aimed at stopping an icebreaker bound for the Chuckchi was halted by police last Friday, ending a efforts by grassroots activists and environmentalists to deter Arctic drilling before it starts.
Shell is positioning ships and starting to drill but next week marks the high risk period when drilling is expected to enter zones of highly concentrated gas and oil reserves deep below the sea floor.
After PEER filed a request for records under the Freedom of Information Act with with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), a federal regulation agency for offshore drilling. Records requested were emergency response plans, reviews of field tests and any whistleblower provisions allowing contractors and Shell workers to report hazards without fearing retaliation.
After initial delay of several weeks BSEE told PEER it would take an additional 12 weeks to gather the records, a time period that would follow after drilling would be completed for the season in October. Arctic winter sets in at that time inhibiting any drilling in the sea. The filed suit is requesting the records to be produced in a more timely manner under federal law.
Steiner said BSEE’s “inability or unwillingness” to release the records before the drilling season is “inexcusable” because “BSEE should have most of this information at its fingertips.” He said that the type of information requested should already be posted to BSEE’s website.
“That is an absurdity that nobody can stand for … it is outrageous that we have to press to get this,” Steiner said.
Environmentalists argue drilling in treacherous Arctic conditions at best produces more fossil fuels, contributing to the to climate change and causing Arctic ice to melt throwing ecosystems out of balance. At worst a cataclysmic oil spill could damage extensive area in the Arctic and harm countless species and fragile environment.