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Spill Commission Co-Chair Endorses Exploratory Arctic Wells

January 26, 2011

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

One of the leaders of the President’s Oil Spill Commission endorsed Shell’s plan on Wednesday to drill an exploratory well in the Arctic, even though he admits spill research is inadequate.  Co-chair William Reilly told the Senate Energy Committee today that he believes Shell’s Beaufort Sea proposal is in his words, “as good as I have ever seen.”

Environmentalists and some locals strongly disagree, and are fighting the drilling plans, saying there’s not enough information about cleaning up oil in the Arctic, and that a spill could be disastrous to wildlife.

Reilly’s support for moving ahead on Arctic exploration came despite his admission that a lot is unknown about cleaning up oil – in general – and especially in icy waters.  He noted that when the BP Horizon was gushing water in the Gulf of Mexico, no one – not government scientists or oil company engineers – really knew how safe the oil dispersants would be.

The President’s Oil Spill Commission was established six months ago after the April BP Blowout in the Gulf, and made recommendations earlier this month to improve the safety and environmental soundness of offshore drilling.

Reilly says the Commission’s recommendations for the Arctic, which include better baseline science and stationing the Coast Guard locally rather than 1,000 miles away, will take time.  In fact, he says just getting the basic science will take at least three years.

But despite that, when pressed by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, he said drilling in the Arctic should go forward, and not wait for the science to catch up.

That pleased Murkowski, but troubled some Democrats on the Senate Energy Committee.

The Oil Spill Commission’s report blamed both the government and the oil industry for systemic failures.

Murkowski took issue Wednesday with placing blame on the whole industry, and asked Reilly if it was like a couple of bad doctors in an otherwise good hospital.  She asked why there haven’t been more problems if it’s system-wide.

The head of the Senate Energy Committee, Democrat Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, pledged to put forward oil spill prevention legislation.  It passed out of his committee last year but stalled in the full Senate.

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