The New York Times reports today that BP is moving ahead with a project that would drill a two-mile-deep well off the coast of Alaska. How is BP getting around the moratorium on new offshore drilling? It’s building its rig on an island — a man-made island built by BP — and declaring it “onshore.”
The moratorium was instituted in response to the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, a leak BP is legally responsible for. And yet, BP is now the only company allowed to drill a new well in the Arctic.
The moratorium was blocked by a judge, but the Obama administration has challenged the block. Many oil companies are in a holding pattern until the legal challenges are over.
Regulators have granted the project “onshore” status because it sits on the man-made island. And in 2007, the Minerals Management Service opted not to do its own independent analysis of the environmental affects of the project. Instead, the agency allowed BP to write its own environmental review and provide its own documents relating to the Endangered Species Act.
The assessments on file with the MMS conclude, writes the Times, “that the effects from a large spill potentially could have a major impact on wildlife, but discounted the threat because they judged the likelihood of spill to be very remote.”
Critics, not surprisingly, say the project is dangerous and could lead to the same kind of environmental disaster now seen in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP’s assessments claim the company could handle a worst-case scenario of a 20,000-barrel-a-day spill, even though the company expects the well to produce 40,000 barrels a day by 2013.