Environment Forum

Gulf of Mexico oil spill prompts worries about Arctic drilling

RUSSIAWith the spotlight shining on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and on the executives sizzling in the hot seat on Capitol Hill, environmental advocates are looking north.

They’re worried that Shell Oil will start drilling in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska before the U.S. government reports on BP’s Deepwater Horizon drill rig disaster. And the environmental groups are not comforted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s reassurances that no new drilling will take place until the government report is completed by May 28.

“The May 28 report deadline still leaves ample time should the Department of the Interior choose to allow this ill-advised drilling to move forward in extreme Arctic conditions, where spill response faces additional challenges of sea ice, seas of up to 20 feet, darkness and a virtual lack of infrastructure from which to stage a response,” the environmental groups — Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society — said in a statement.

OIL-RIG/LEAKThe Chukchi Sea is home to polar bears, which are already under pressure due to melting summer sea ice in the Arctic. The big white bears are listed as a U.S. threatened species due to the expected continued effects of climate change in the area.

Shell plans to move into the area around July 1, and get to the places where it wants to drill exploratory wells by July 4 if ice permits. They plan to leave for the year by October 31.

Washington math: oil spill + climate bill = new environmental polls

OIL-RIG/LEAKWith BP’s spilled oil shimmering off the U.S. Gulf Coast, and a re-tooled bill to curb climate change expected to be unveiled this week in the U.S. Senate, what could be more appropriate than a bouquet of new environmental polls? Conducted on behalf of groups that want less fossil fuel use, the polls show hefty majorities favoring legislation to limit emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide.

In the kind of harmonic convergence that sometimes happens inside the Capital Beltway, a new poll released on Monday by the Clean Energy Works campaign showed “overwhelming public support for comprehensive clean energy legislation,” with 61 percent of 2010 voters saying they want to limit pollution, invest in clean energy and make energy companies pay for emitting the carbon that contributes to climate change. A healthy majority — 54 percent — of respondents said they’d be more likely to re-elect a senator who votes for the bill.

Last Friday, the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been pushing for climate change legislation for years, released its own poll numbers. NRDC’s pollsters found seven in 10 Americans want to see fast-tracked clean energy legislation in the wake of the BP oil spill, and two-thirds say they want to postpone new offshore drilling until the Gulf oil spill is investigated and new safeguards are put in place.

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