Former Clinton, Obama officials call for halt to Arctic drilling

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

Former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta and former EPA administrator and Obama climate policy director Carol Browner have changed their tune and are now opposed to oil and gas drilling in the arctic. They argue that a “series of mishaps and errors” have them convinced it can’t be done safely and responsibly.

“We were open to offshore oil and gas development in the Arctic provided oil companies and the government could impose adequate safeguards, ensure sufficient response capacity and develop a deeper understanding of how oil behaves in ice and freezing water,” write Podesta and Browner, both now working at the liberal Center for American Progress.

“Now, following a series of mishaps and errors, as well as overwhelming weather conditions, it has become clear that there is no safe and responsible way to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean,” they added.

Podesta and Browner argue that despite reports warning about potential hazards of arctic drilling and advances in technology and expertise, Royal Dutch Shell has shown it is ill-prepared for arctic drilling. The two go farther to argue that arctic drilling should be stopped altogether.

“The Obama administration shouldn’t issue any new permits to Shell this year and should suspend all action on other companies’ applications to drill in this remote and unpredictable region,” write Podesta and Browner.

Recently, Shell’s Kulluk drilling rig ran aground near Kodiak Island after five days of being towed through fierce weather, including 70 mph winds. The incident provided another platform for environmental groups to speak out against arctic drilling and brought swift action by federal regulators.

“This series of mishaps by Shell makes it crystal clear we are not ready to drill in the Arctic,” the Environmental Defense Council’s Chuck Clusen told reporters.

“We have seen enough accidents to know that right now Shell is not prepared to safely drill in the Arctic,” said Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ed Markey, in a statement.

The Interior Department announced that it was reviewing Shell’s arctic drilling operations, with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar saying it was “troubling that there was such as series of mishaps.” The EPA also issued air quality violation notices to Shell for emitting excessive amounts of pollution from the Kulluk and another drilling rig.

However, the top oil and gas industry lobby pushed back against environmentalist critics and argued that Shell should continue its arctic drilling operations

“The most important thing is to distinguish that the issue was a transportation, a movement situation,” said Jack Gerard, President and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. said. “I think they’re not only highly regulated, but also highly monitored and scrutinized at what they’re doing. So I think that clearly needs to move forward.”

Shell says it is confident that it can safely drill in the region.

“It is possible to drill safely offshore Alaska, as our 2012 record shows,” said Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh.

“But just because we can access [untapped fossil fuel reserves] doesn’t mean we can safely extract them,” conclude Podest and Browner. “The Obama administration should hit the pause button on Arctic offshore drilling with relatively little damage done.”

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