Department of Interior Secretary Salazar can stop BPs next drilling disaster before it even happens

by Melanie Duchin

September 14, 2010

Greenpeace: Mel DuchinBP’s latest reckless gamble with the health of our planet in its pursuit of profits is known as the Liberty project, so named for the Liberty reservoir, an oilfield under the Beaufort Sea in Alaska’s Arctic. But in a way that’s a bit of a bad choice for naming the project, as the Liberty reservoir is actually about eight miles away from the drilling operation.

BP will initiate drilling from a gravel island the company has built three miles off the coast of the Beaufort Sea. From there, BP will drill up to two miles down and six to eight miles sideways to reach the Liberty oilfield located beneath federal waters.

A better name for the project might be “Insane.” The Arctic offshore environment is even more fragile than the Gulf, and has little to no emergency response assets on hand. The US Coast Guard has described an oil spill in Arctic waters as a “nightmare scenario.” It took BP more than three months to end the gusher in the Gulf, and the region will likely feel the effects of the nearly 5 million barrels of oil that were spilled for decades to come. The Insane/Liberty Project is, quite simply, a monumentally bad idea.

Greenpeace BP logo redesign“But wait,” you say, trying to be reasonable, “Isn’t there a moratorium on drilling on the outer continental shelf in the Arctic? How can this happen?”

This is where the story of the Insane/Liberty project gets almost farcical. It’s not subject to the moratorium, you see, because it’s being drilled from an artificial island, which magically qualifies it to be classified as onshore. Or, “the world’s largest onshore rig for drilling ultra-extended reach wells,” as BP would have it.

Sure the company has built an artificial island almost three miles offshore, but that’s mere semantics. Sure the type of “ultra-extended reach” drilling operations the company is proposing are more prone to gas kicks that can lead to the types of blowouts that caused the Deepwater Horizon to catch on fire and sink to the bottom of the Gulf. But BP insists the project is perfectly safe for its workers and for local ecosystems — and they should know, because they wrote their own environmental review (just like they did for the Deepwater Horizon).

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar can stop this madness. BP has received state and federal permits, but has yet to receive final permission from the federal government to begin drilling in 2011. We can’t let any more of our coastlines be threatened by BP’s relentless drive to tap the world’s dwindling oil supply just to make money.

Along with the Center for Biological Diversity, NRDC, Sierra Club, and several other groups, we sent a letter to Sec. Salazar asking him to deny BP’s drilling application. But he needs to hear from you too. Ask Sec. Salazar to act now to stop BP’s next drilling disaster before it even happens.

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