A lot of environmentalists' hopes have been pinned on the idea that the Department of the Interior might shut down Shell's Arctic drilling plans for the summer. The Seattle city council wrote to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, asking her to reject the controversial leases that would allow the company to move forward. Former mayor Mike McGinn asked our port commissioners to write to Jewell, too. The Stranger encouraged Governor Jay Inslee to call on Jewell to reject all Arctic drilling as well.
But today, Jewell approved Shell's rights to the Chukchi Sea leases it obtained from the federal government back in 2008. That means Shell has now cleared one of the most significant regulatory obstacles to drilling in the Arctic starting this summer—while using Seattle as an off-season parking lot for its fleet.
You know what's really annoying? Governor Inslee didn't deliver his letter to Sally Jewell until today, the same day she announced her decision. And he didn't even ask Jewell to reject this particular lease sale; instead, he asked her to shut down future Arctic lease sales.
Here's a breakdown of what the Department of the Interior's decision means, from Jennifer Dlouhy at Fuel Fix:
The move keeps the door open for Shell to return to the Chukchi Sea this summer and drill wells into its Burger Prospect about 70 miles from Alaska’s shoreline.
It is far from the final regulatory step for Shell, which still must secure individual drilling permits and win the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s approval of its broad exploration plan. But Jewell’s affirmation of the 2008 lease sale — outlined in a “record of decision” Tuesday filed in response to a new court-ordered environmental analysis of the auction — was a critical hurdle for Shell’s 2015 Arctic ambitions.
The Guardian reported that Shell had this one coming, so, yes, the hope that Jewell would reject all Arctic drilling did seem like a long shot. But why didn't Inslee step up and write to Jewell like the city council did, and earlier?
As I mentioned, Inslee's letter to Jewell about Arctic drilling was delivered this morning. It wasn't in response to Jewell's decision, Inslee's executive director of communications David Postman clarified, just a coincidence. In the letter, the governor expressed concern about Arctic drilling and asked the federal government not to extend "any further lease sales for drilling operations in these areas."
But Inslee did not ask Jewell to reject the 2008 lease sale that had been up for debate until today—the same one allowing Shell to carry out its exploratory drilling in the summer while mooring in Seattle over the winter. It would have been nice if Inslee asked Jewell to reject all Arctic drilling, but he didn't. And yet he's commonly called America's "greenest governor." What's up with that?
"We chose to focus on future leases because of the difficulty of getting Interior to rescind existing leases; we didn't want to refight leases, we wanted to make a strong case for preventing any future Arctic drilling where we think we may be more persuasive," Postman wrote in an e-mail.
Rather, Inslee did reference the federal government's proposed 2017-2022 outer continental shelf leasing plan that would open up even more of the Arctic to drilling. In late January, the Department of the Interior announced a draft plan that would put up three lease sales in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Cook Inlet. The draft plan "would take our nation even further in the wrong direction," Inslee wrote.
I cannot in good faith support this new oil and gas development given the slow and insufficient progress that countries have made to date in limiting carbon pollution. In the absence of that progress, the nation should not invest in new long-term infrastructure for Arctic production that will increase and further entrench our use of fossil fuels. The federal administration should not enable new oil and gas drilling in these untouched areas that host such a fragile environment.
Read the full letter here. Oh, and if you're wondering how the foxy hippies chasing one of Shell's exploratory drilling rigs across the Pacific Ocean feel about Sally Jewell's decision, Greenpeace sent along this statement from Zoe Buckley Lennox, 21, one of the activists on board:
To me it seems insane that despite all we know about climate change and the risks of drilling in the Arctic the US government has failed to stop Shell. Right now, we are on the heels of their drilling rig to represent the millions of people who have taken a stand against Arctic oil and expose Shell's dangerous scheme to scrutiny. Despite this regrettable decision, I feel confident that the movement to protect the Arctic and our future will only grow stronger in response.