The U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) has approved Shell’s plan to drill as many as a dozen exploration wells over the next two years in the Beaufort Sea.
The agency, which supervises Alaska’s oil and gas leasing released an environmental assessment that said that the project would not cause “undue or serious harm or damage to the human, marine or coastal environment.”
Environmental groups are outraged. Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm representing five Alaska environmentalist groups, urged MMS officials to prepare a much more detailed environmental impact statement, which could take years, before allowing the drilling to happen.
They said Shell’s activity could harm the bowhead whales, polar bears, migratory birds and other area wildlife. The whales are listed as an endangered species. “The bowhead whale is the species of greatest concern,” said Deirdre McDonnell, an attorney with the firm.
REDOIL (Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands) a network of Alaska Native grassroots leadership is also calling for the MMS to issue an EIS. REDOIL along with other Alaskan Natives are concerned that the development could harm the delicate Beaufort Sea marine and coastal ecosystem.
They argue that “the subsistence rights of Alaska Natives must be protected at all costs” and that “the risks are high for potential damage.”
“Native Communities have the right to their subsistence way of life. Shell’s plans will severely impede subsistence. The MMS must do a full EIS to adequately ensure an open process to address community concerns. Anything less only illustrates that the MMS of the federal governments neglect in responsibility and lack of humanity by failing to listen to the people most directly affected by off-shore oil and gas exploration and development,” says Faith Gemmill, Outreach Coordinator of the REDOIL Network.