Just say “no” to Shell Oil: that was the message protesters wanted to send to the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday afternoon.
About two dozen opponents of Arctic drilling rallied outside the EPA’s headquarters in downtown Anchorage. They called on the agency to reject Shell’s request for a waiver in meeting its emission requirements, when it begins drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
If Shell is able to carry out its plans as scheduled, drilling is just a few weeks away.
A girl dressed up in a polar bear costume waved a stuffed salmon, while other demonstrators carried signs.
“It’s just a series of letdowns by Shell, backtracking on what they promised,” said Carl Wassilie, one of the protest organizers and a leader in a group called Alaska’s Big Village Network. “We’ve got enough problems dealing with contamination from global fallout. We don’t need more localized pollution.”
Demonstrators like Nikos Pastos, an environmental sociologist for the Center for Water Advocacy, says the EPA needs to uphold the law.
“This is a major big deal,” says Pastos. “If the EPA bends the rules of the Clean Air Act order for Shell Oil to get the ability to pollute in the Arctic, it would be a major source of new air pollution.”
Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell in Alaska, says engine emissions from Shell’s drilling ship, the Noble Discoverer, and its oil spill response barge, the Arctic Challenger, are slightly above the EPA’s limit. Smith believes the EPA will grant the waiver, because the company has worked closely with regulators, who he says understand that there are no current generators on the market that would bring the Noble Discoverer into compliance.
But opponents of Arctic drilling say Shell shouldn’t get a last-minute break on pollution standards – and needs even more scrutiny.
“It’s duplicitous, where Shell Oil is saying it’s 100 percent safe, but they’ve had trouble with their ship in Dutch Harbor,” says Pastos. “And then they’re backtracking about how much pollution they’re going to emit.”
The Noble Discoverer, one of Shell’s two drilling ships headed for the Arctic, dragged anchor near Dutch Harbor on July 14, raising concerns about Shell’s capabilities to explore in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.
But Shell says it’s using the best available technology in the world.
“This will be the cleanest offshore program for any industry, anywhere in the world, not just Alaska,” said Smith.
But will the company get a chance to prove this? As the window for Arctic exploration narrows, there have also been delays in getting Coast Guard certification for the Arctic Challenger.