Audubon Society Says Arctic Drilling Approval Ignores Conservation Concerns

May 12, 2015 Updated: May 12, 2015

The National Audubon Society, a nonprofit conservation group, responded to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)’s announcement Monday granting conditional approval for Shell Gulf of Mexico, Inc. to start drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

It said in a press release the decision ignores concerns raised by conservation groups and that America didn’t need oil to maintain energy independence.

Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold called the approval a “public relations bone” being thrown to Shell. “[T]he Obama team gets to pretend that ‘all of the above’ (including risky offshore drilling) is a legitimate energy strategy as a way to deflect criticism from a much-needed global agreement on greenhouse gas emissions controls,” he complained. “It’s a phony deal.”

More importantly, the conservation group leader is concerned about the potential effect on birds, other wildlife, and people. “[I]ssuing this first permit is a slippery slope that could lead to environmental catastrophe,” he said.

But the BOEM said in a statement that it did take into consideration significant environmental concerns. “We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea, recognizing the significant environmental, social, and ecological resources in the region …” said BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper.

There are conditions to the approval including the requirement that Shell obtain necessary permits from state and federal agencies like the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. 

The approval is based on a multi-year Exploration Plan (EP) submitted by Shell, which details all of the planned exploration activities including “actions to be taken to meet important safety and environmental standards.”

“Spills under ice sheets can’t be controlled,” Yarnold said.

The BOEM is confident that it conducted a thorough review, utilizing a team of experts. “We’d like to thank the experts in our cooperating agencies, the tribal government representatives who took time out from their busy schedules to do government-to-government consultations, and of course the many members of the public and stakeholder organizations who provided us with valuable comments during the review process,” said James Kendall, BOEM Alaska regional director.

Shell plans to drill up to six wells within the Burger Prospect, located in approximately 140 feet of water about 70 miles northwest of the village of Wainwright.