(MintPress) — President Obama gave the Dutch Shell oil company executive approval last week to begin preparatory activities in the Alaskan arctic. The controversial decision came after years of legal battles and delays in the project. Although lawmakers tout the project as moving America toward greater energy independence and lower gas prices, environmental groups express continued opposition to the expansion of fossil fuel use, believing that the project will only exacerbate the problem of global warming.
A number of unique and endangered species populate the arctic region. Without the proper protections, environmental groups fear that polar bears and other wildlife could be under threat by drilling operations.
In a rare area of considerable bipartisan overlap, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney expressed his support for further expansion of oil and natural gas development. In his speech before the Republican National Convention on Thursday, Romney unveiled his plan to bring full energy independence to America by 2020 through the expansion of oil and gas drilling.
The U.S. Department of Interior approved Shell to conduct preparatory activities in advance of drilling. However. the multinational oil corporation is prohibited from actually drilling until the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approve its oil containment barge, which currently is docked in Bellingham, Wash.
Environmental groups fear that the project could be pushed through even before the oil containment barge is given the proper approval. Currently, the barge still has several EPA violations and is awaiting approval for modifications to its safety and air quality standards.
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the environmental groups protesting the development, has launched an online petition imploring President Obama to stop the Shell drilling project because of these violations.
“The Coast Guard has found safety problems on Shell’s spill response barge, and the company still lacks proper equipment to limit air pollution or clean up a potential spill. Ask President Obama to stop Shell’s rash effort to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas without meeting the administration’s safety standards for this fragile environment,” the petition states.
Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes has stated his belief that the barge is not needed “because there is not the opportunity for an oil spill” at this stage. However, Shell Corp. has been found responsible previously for several oil spills in Nigeria.
In 2011, an industrial accident on a Shell oil rig resulted in a 1 million-2 million gallon oil spill off the coast of Nigeria. Shell was found responsible in the incident, the largest Nigerian oil spill in 13 years and one of the largest in the West African country’s history.
The much larger concern is the long term impact of a drilling project that will damage an area many believe should remain a protected environmental sanctuary. The Alaskan arctic remains largely devoid of major developments and human settlement. A number of unique or endangered species populate the region and would be under threat if Shell drilling were allowed to go forward.
Greenpeace, one of the leading environmental organizations, started an international campaign earlier this summer believing the arctic should become a protected sanctuary free of drilling and unsustainable fishing practices.
“Many bird species migrate to the Arctic in summer, as well as whales and seals. Polar bears and Arctic foxes, which rely heavily on marine and coastal resources to live, will be directly impacted by industrialization,” Greenpeace writes on their website.
Many Americans, however, saw the economic impact of gas prices soaring in the leadup to the long Labor Day weekend, one of the busiest travel weekends of the summer. This has led to strong support for initiatives that people believe will lower gas prices and fewer fluctuations in price based upon the whims of global energy markets.
Energy independence vs. green revolution
Last week, national gas prices took the largest single day jump, an increase of nearly 5 cents to an average $3.80 per gallon across the U.S. This sudden bump in gas prices was in response partly to hurricane Isaac ravaging Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region.
Much of the Republican Party leadership, including Romney, insist that the U.S. possesses the natural resources to become energy independent by the year 2020 if energy developers make proper use of all natural resources, including coal, natural gas fracking and offshore oil drilling.
On Thursday during his speech before the Republican National Convention, Romney said, “We’re not going to have to buy oil from the Middle East, Venezuela or any other place we don’t want to. We may even be an exporter of energy, considering all our resources.”
However, industry officials, including members of the Petro River Oil project in the Mississippi Lime region, believe that it is unlikely there will be the large “elephant fields” necessary to create the kind of energy independence the Romney plan calls for.
Saudi Arabia, a country with much larger oil reserves, has already been forced to contemplate the “post-oil” future as reserves in the kingdom are rapidly diminishing.
A leaked diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks February 2011 provides insight into Saudi Arabia’s rapidly diminishing oil reserves. Sadad al-Husseini, a geologist and former head of exploration at the Saudi oil monopoly Aramco, warned Washington in the cable, telling U.S. officials that Saudi Arabia’s remaining oil reserves may be a full 40 percent lower than expected.
However, these type of warnings have not dissuaded either major U.S. political parties from expanding the development of a non-renewable, finite resource that is believed to cause harm to the environment.
Continuing in his RNC speech, Romney touted the economic impact of oil development, saying, “Three million jobs will come back to this country by taking advantage of something we have right underneath our feet. That’s oil and gas and coal and we’re going to make it happen. We’re going to create those jobs.”
Some Democratic lawmakers have already spoken out against the plan, believing that Romney’s plan would likely hand large tracts of public land to oil and gas companies, while eliminating at least 40,000 green energy jobs.
Additionally, under the Romney plan, the multibillion dollar oil and gas industry would be afforded additional unnecessary tax breaks to expand the use of limited fossil fuel resources.