EPA Rules Force Shell to Abandon Oil Drilling Plans

Daily News Article   —   Posted on April 26, 2011

(by Dan Springer, FoxNews.com) – Shell Oil Company has announced it must scrap efforts to drill for oil this summer in the Arctic Ocean off the northern coast of Alaska. The decision comes following a ruling by the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board to withhold critical air permits. The move has angered some in Congress and triggered a flurry of legislation aimed at stripping the EPA of its oil drilling oversight.

Shell has spent five years and nearly $4 billion dollars on plans to explore for oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. The leases alone cost $2.2 billion. Shell Vice President Pete Slaiby says obtaining similar air permits for a drilling operation in the Gulf of Mexico would take about 45 days. He’s especially frustrated over the appeal board’s suggestion that the Arctic drill would somehow be hazardous for the people who live in the area. “We think the issues were really not major,” Slaiby said, “and clearly not impactful for the communities we work in.”

The closest village to where Shell proposed to drill is Kaktovik, Alaska. It is one of the most remote places in the United States. According to the latest census, the population is 245 and nearly all of the residents are Alaska natives. The village, which is 1 square mile, sits right along the shores of the Beaufort Sea, 70 miles away from the proposed off-shore drill site.

The EPA’s appeals board ruled that Shell had not taken into consideration emissions from an ice-breaking vessel when calculating overall greenhouse gas emissions from the project. Environmental groups were thrilled by the ruling.

“What the modeling showed was in communities like Kaktovik, Shell’s drilling would increase air pollution levels close to air quality standards,” said Eric Grafe, Earthjustice’s lead attorney on the case. Earthjustice was joined by Center for Biological Diversity and the Alaska Wilderness League in challenging the air permits.

At stake is an estimated 27 billion barrels of oil. That’s how much the U. S. Geological Survey believes is in the U.S. portion of the Arctic Ocean. For perspective, that represents two and a half times more oil than has flowed down the Trans Alaska pipeline throughout its 30-year history. That pipeline is getting dangerously low on oil. At 660,000 barrels a day, it’s carrying only one-third its capacity.

Production on the North Slope of Alaska is declining at a rate of about 7 percent a year. If the volume gets much lower, pipeline officials say they will have to shut it down. Alaska officials are blasting the Environmental Protection Agency.

“It’s driving investment and production overseas,” said Alaska’s DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan. “That doesn’t help the United States in any way, shape or form.”

The EPA did not return repeated calls and e-mails. The Environmental Appeals Board has four members: Edward Reich, Charles Sheehan, Kathie Stein and Anna Wolgast. All are registered Democrats and Kathie Stein was an activist attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund. Members are appointed by the EPA administrator. Alaska’s Republican senator thinks it’s time to make some changes.

“EPA has demonstrated that they’re not competent to handle the process,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “So if they’re not competent to handle it, they need to get out of the way.”

Murkowski supported budget amendments that would have stripped the EPA of its oversight role in Arctic offshore drilling. The Interior Department issues air permits to oil companies working in the Gulf of Mexico.

Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from FoxNews. Visit the website at FoxNews.com.

Questions

1. How much time and money has Shell Oil Company spent on plans to explore for oil off the northern coast of Alaska?

2. What ruling did the EPA appeals board make that has caused Shell to end plans to drill for oil this summer in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas?

3. a) Three environmental groups challenged Shell’s application for air permits needed for the offshore drilling. What argument did the groups use to challenge Shell, according to their attorney Eric Grafe?
b) Do you think the EPA’s appeals board was being unreasonable, or did they make the right decision about Shell’s application? Explain your answer.

4. How much oil is estimated to be in the area of ocean Shell wanted to drill in, according to the U.S. Geological Survey?

5. Why are air permits for the Gulf of Mexico easier to obtain?

6. The EPA appeals board consists of 4 members who control whether oil can be extracted from U.S. waters off Alaska’s coast. The board of 4 that turned down Shell’s application is made up of all Democrats, one of whom was an activist attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund. The majority of Democrats oppose drilling for oil. The majority of Republicans support drilling for oil. It is believed that President Obama wants to force Americans to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal).  Skyrocketing gas prices will force many Americans to drive less. Whether you support or oppose the use of fossil fuels, we need affordable energy to power our cars and homes, computers, phones, etc. 

Visit the websites under “Resources” below. Then read about U.S. consumption of oil at the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration website at eia.doe.gov/tools/faqs.  Based on this information, and the rising price of gas, do you think it is better for the U.S. to drill for oil, or to reduce our use of fossil fuels by driving less (walking, biking, or taking public transportation to work) and by using less heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, etc.? Explain your answer.

7. Ask a parent to read and answer question #6. Compare your answers.

 


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Background

The Department of the Interior: (Read more at doi.gov)

  • The Secretary of the Interior is a member of the President’s cabinet and reports directly to the President. He is responsible for the direction and supervision of all operations and activities of the Department.
  • The Department of the Interior (DOI) is the nation’s principal conservation agency. The DOI’s mission is to protect America’s treasures for future generations, provide access to our nation’s natural and cultural heritage, offer recreation opportunities, honor trust responsibilities to American Indians and Alaska Natives and responsibilities to island communities, conduct scientific research, provide wise stewardship of energy and mineral resources, foster sound use of land and water resources, and conserve and protect fish and wildlife.
  • Interior is a large, decentralized agency with over 70,000 employees and 280,000 volunteers located at approximately 2,400 operating locations across the United States, Puerto Rico, U.S. territories, and freely associated states.
  • The DOI has a $16.8 billion total annual budget. DOI raises more than $18.2 billion in revenues collected from energy, mineral, grazing, timber, recreation, land sales, and other revenue producing activities.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): (Read more at epa.gov)

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an agency of the federal government charged with protecting human health and the environment, by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress.
  • The agency is led by its Administrator, who is appointed by the president and approved by Congress.
  • The current administrator is Lisa P. Jackson.
  • The EPA is not a Cabinet department, but the administrator is normally given cabinet rank.
  • The agency has approximately 18,000 full-time employees. (from wikipedia)

Resources

Visit a website that supports oil drilling in Alaska’s ANWR [Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] at anwr.org.

Read the “Top 10 reasons to support development in ANWR” at anwr.org/topten.htm.

Read about offshore oil drilling at earthsci.org/mineral/energy/gasexpl/offshore.html.