Shell Pushes Back Arctic Exploration Plans

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

Alaska’s Con

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gressional delegation has come out swinging against the Obama Administration at news that Shell is pushing back exploration plans in the Arctic.

Shell announced today that it will not drill in the Beaufort Sea this summer. It blamed the Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency, which hasn’t told the company whether it will green light its permits for 2011.

That drew disgust from Senator Mark Begich – not at Shell, but at the White House.

“I put the total blame of this year delay on the EPA and the Obama Administration and their inability to get their act together,” Begich said. “They have a lack of ability over and over again to say OK, here’s the deadline, here’s what they’ll work within, they seem to be unable to do that, or put additional road blocks.”

But, the EPA says it’s not the agency’s fault. It did grant Shell the permit last year, but environmentalist and Alaska Native groups challenged it, and an independent body, the Environmental Appeals Board, overturned the permit.

The EPA says it’s up to Shell to work with them to address the concerns raised by the Appeals Board and until that happens, the EPA can’t move forward.

Despite that, Senator Begich says the EPA should be aggressive in moving forward. He said he’s not sure what the holdup is – whether it’s lack of organization, lack of resources, or intentional foot-dragging on fossil fuel development.

“But what we hear informally as well as sometimes formally, ‘geez we don’t have enough allocation of staff,’ well get them,” Begich said. “Tell us what you need, and do the job you have to do statutorily, quit telling us don’t’ have the resources but go out and do new programs.”

“I’ll tell you it’s just driving me partially crazy, the way they’re doing it.”

Begich says if the President wants to stand by his pledge to be more energy independent, as he called for last week at the State of the Union, then his administration should get serious. Senator Lisa Murkowski agrees, and said in a written statement today that Shell’s inability to get a green light on its permits is damaging the national economy.

Congressman Don Young says the responsibility lies with the EPA’s Administrator.

“It’s the Lisa Jackson, lack of direction, inability to make decisions correctly. They have plenty of manpower. They’ve got too much. The lack of direction and the lack of enthusiasm for fossil fuels,” Young said.

While the Congressional delegation took Shell at its word that the blame lies with the EPA, environmentalists say the decision is entirely Shell’s.

The Alaska Wilderness League says the announcement reinforces its belief that Shell is not ready to drill in the Arctic. The conservation organization says the oil company has been using the EPA permitting process as an artificial deadline.

The World Wildlife Fund calls it a “sensible decision” by Shell because of the risks of oil spills, and the lack of knowledge about how to clean up oil in icy waters. It says there are grave risks to offshore drilling in the Arctic to wildlife and Alaskans.