Shannyn Moore: Court rules for sense on Arctic Ocean oil leases

commentBy SHANNYN MOOREFebruary 1, 2014 

I'm not sure what's important to you when you buy a car but safety is high on my list. (I'm on a 20-year Subaru streak -- it's about love.) I watch the commercials with crash test dummies because I want some idea how safe I'll be in a crash.

Now imagine if you found out that the crashes that got tested were only 5 miles an hour. (They aren't but pretend with me for a second, folks.)

A five-star rating in a 5 mph crash wouldn't mean much.

That's basically what happened when oil leases off Alaska's northern coast were put up for sale in 2008. The environmental impact statement by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management was based on a hypothetical level of oil development arbitrarily set by a BOEM analyst. Oh, how about a nice round number of 1 billion barrels?

Fine. Except it is way low. Exactly 12 times too low, according to development projections the BOEM made in 2006. About like the difference between a 5 mph crash and a 60 mph crash.

The people of the village of Point Hope had some concerns about offshore oil development. They get their living from the waters the oil companies were circling. Environmental groups signed on to their concerns. Some people want to save whales and seals so Alaskans on the North Slope can eat as they have for the last 10,000 years. So they sued the federal government.

Radical, I know.

The oil companies and the state of Alaska went to court to support the feds. The state wasn't there to protect the Alaskans or safeguard our coastal waters. Prospective oil royalties from development weren't going to go to the state; those go to the federal government. No, the state of Alaska was there to justify 5 mph crash safety tests. Despite the David-and-Goliath matchup, the court ultimately agreed with the plaintiffs and the notion that impact studies need to be based on likely impacts.

That led, at least in part, to the announcement this week that Shell won't resume exploratory drilling in the Arctic this coming summer.

To you politicians -- damn near all of you in Alaska: Will you stop acting like anyone who wants reality-based environmental standards in resource development is some patchouli-soaked, bike-riding, waffle-stomping, granola-crunching hippie radical anti-capitalist? If someone wants a car with safety standards based on 60 mph instead of 5 mph, they aren't "anti-car-travel."

Democratic Sen. Mark Begich sounded exactly like all the Republicans running against him:

"It is simply unacceptable that judicial overreach is getting in the way of letting Alaskans develop our own natural resources. Development in the Arctic has already been subjected to unprecedented safety standards -- far more than domestic production anywhere else. I've worked for years to get all the federal agencies working together to permit Arctic projects, now we need to tackle the all too common legal stonewalling by outside groups. That's why I am re-introducing my legislation to ensure there is a judicial endgame for Arctic developers when they have invested billions of dollars in developing our resources."

Um, Point Hope villagers seem less like "outside groups" than some others (for example, Royal DUTCH Shell).

Stonewalling? Is brushing your teeth stonewalling cavities? What's that line about "an ounce of prevention ... ?"

We all had front-row seats to Shell not getting its act together in the Arctic. The company is pulling in its oars because, as it announced, its fourth-quarter net profit was down 74 percent. (Not to worry, it was still a hefty $1.78 billion.)

Theirs was a long list of missteps. Other companies interested in the offshore Arctic should be mad at Shell, not the drilling skeptics. Why aren't Begich and the rest decrying Shell's hubris and incompetence rather than "judicial overreach?"

Shell ran its rig aground not once but twice. Last year its crews pulled out of Dutch Harbor into a 100-year storm with inadequate towing gear just to avoid a tax bill.

The Deadliest Catch fishermen were still at the dock but Shell let some bean counter send its rigs into the Gulf of Alaska for an oil company's version of pocket change? They're lucky no one got killed.

Heck, their spill-response barge was fined for spilling fluids in a Washington harbor. Laugh or cry, your choice.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals isn't to blame because the BOEM used "5 mph" for its crash test. Shell has more than demonstrated the need for federal regulators to require realistic crash tests, just as they do for cars.

The profits from this development don't belong to all of us -- but the risk certainly does.

Shannyn Moore is a radio host on 1480 AM in Washington, D.C., and on Netroots Radio.

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