Public criticizes federal plan for drilling leases in Gulf, Arctic

12 06, 2011 by Fuel Fix

The small group of oil industry supporters and the environmentalist who showed up for Tuesday’s public hearing on the federal offshore drilling plan were polarized on the issue of offshore drilling, but had one thing in common: They don’t like the government’s plan.

The Department of Interior is holding a series of public hearings on the Obama Administration’s five-year plan for leasing offshore areas for oil drilling. The Houston hearing was held Tuesday afternoon at the Marriott hotel at Intercontinental Airport.

Just four people showed up, all protesting what they view as the plan’s shortcomings.

The proposal includes lease sales in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico, but excludes areas off the Atlantic Coast, an absence that has troubled the oil industry.

“Decisions to limit the scope to the Gulf and Alaska is a missed opportunity for a much more secure energy future for our nation,” Andy Radford, senior policy advisor on offshore issues for the American Petroleum Institute, said at the hearing. “This is flat-footed energy policy that fails to move us in the right direction.”

Radford and other industry supporters told the panel of federal representatives that expanding leases to the Atlantic would create more jobs and generate more revenue for the federal government.

“With government deficits, I’d think you wanted to lease as many tracts as you can,” said Humble resident Larry Slaski, 61.

Alaska Wilderness League Field Operations Director Liz VanDenzen raised environmentalists’ concerns that oil companies have not developed adequate oil spill response plans for the unique Arctic environment. She noted that accident response teams would battle limited road, port and air access there, as well as “pervasive sea ice, frigid temperatures and months-long darkness.”

“At this point, drilling in the Arctic Ocean is tantamount to Mission: Impossible,” VanDenzen said. “Shell Oil’s spill response plans for the Arctic Ocean include glorified mops and buckets.”

Shell is battling environmentalist’s legal challenges to its plan to drill in the Arctic’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas. The company maintains that it has funneled millions into its Arctic spill response plan, including staff, equipment and ships that skim oil from the water’s surface and chemically break down slicks. The company also touts the Arctic’s colder temperatures as a partial benefit, by slowing down the spread of the spill and creating ice that helps to contain it.