Environmental Groups Petition Against Shell’s Oil Exploration Plan In Gulf Of Mexico

After the U.S. Government approved Shell’s proposal for five oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico, numerous environmental groups have taken action against the plan.

More than 7,000 feet underwater, the proposed oil wells are located 72 miles off the coast of Louisiana. The wells would be more than 2,000 feet deeper than the BP well that failed in April 2010 and resulted in one the worst oil spills in history.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement approved Shell’s proposal in May. Shell’s proposal came soon after Exxon Mobil announced the discovery of a substantial oil reserve while drilling 7,000 feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico. The reserve contains at least 700 million barrels of oil equivalent and Exxon Mobil calls it “one of the largest discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico in the last decade.” The company also discovered a reserve of natural gas along with the oil reserves.

The environmental groups Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a petition in the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta against the government’s approval of Shell’s oil exploration plan. Citing experts and engineers, the groups argue oil exploration in the Gulf is “illegal’ and that there is no evidence that drilling 7,000 feet underwater is safe. More than a year after the BP disaster, experts believe oil companies are still not capable of handling oil leaks and accidents deep underwater if they were to happen again. Additionally, the location of the proposed wells pose another problem in the event of an accident; it would take time for emergency crews to reach the wells 72 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

After the BP oil spill, much attention was turned to oil companies involved in deep sea oil drilling and prompted the U.S. Government to enact stricter regulations regarding deep sea oil drilling. However, in October, these regulations were relaxed and oil companies began to file proposals for drilling once again.

Shell argues that the environmental groups are ignoring “the comprehensive nature of the approved exploration plan.” Shell claims their oil exploration plan addresses concerns with safety and impacts on the environment.

Shell adds that the groups are protesting something that has yet to happen. The government’s approval of the oil exploration plan does not allow the company to drill yet. Shell must be issued a separate drilling permit before being able to start drilling the proposed oil wells.

If permitted to drill, Shell estimates up to 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent can be extracted each day and over 140,000 barrels can be recovered by the end of the project’s lifetime.

In March, the U.S Government allowed shell to carry out a separate oil exploration plan 130 miles off the coast of Louisiana. After obtaining a drilling permit, Shell is preparing to begin drilling a new well 2,721 feet deep.

As oil companies resume drilling for oil in the Gulf, President Obama continues to be frowned upon by many environmentalists. Environmental groups accuse the President of disregarding the dangers of deep sea oil drilling, even after seeing firsthand the damage the BP oil spill caused. Says David Guest, an attorney for environmental law firm Earthjustice, “It is as if the government regulators have learned nothing from the BP disaster.”

Despite the potential environmental risks, some believe the newly discovered oil reserve in the Gulf of Mexico will reap economical benefits for the country. Says U.S. Representative Fred Upton, R-Mich. and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, “The prospect of new American-made energy supplies means less pain at the pump for American families and more American jobs.”

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/aedeacon/1512636209/

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