A Reuters article Thursday, delved into the relentless efforts of environmental activists to block the inevitable return of the Royal Dutch Shell M/V Fennica caping stack loaded icebreaker vessel from Portland, Oregon to the Arctic Alaskan Chukchi Sea for crude oil drilling. Late Thursday evening, the M/V Fennica vessel very narrowly eased past activists who had been dangling from St. John’s bridge in Willamette River for more than 40 hours as well as dozens of kayaking protestors who surrounded the vessel. The activists made every effort to prolong their two day blockade designed to stop the newly permitted Shell drilling in the Alaskan Arctic. However, an Alaskan federal court ordered fines and Portland citations of activist demonstrations curtailed their strongest efforts.
Despite the signs of a possible repeat of the 2012 Shell drilling mishap that led to a fire on its Noble Discoverer drilling ship and its Kulluk drilling rig wreck off Kodiak Island, Alaska, the US Department of Interior Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement officially permitted Shell to begin drilling Wednesday, July 22nd. After approving Shell’s request to drill in the Alaskan Arctic in 2012, the United States Coast Guard fined and penalized a Shell contractor $12.2 million for its environmental and safety violations stemming from the wreckage. The 39 inch repaired gash in the M/V Fennica vessel offers little reassurance to concerned activists who have worked for years to prevent major oil drilling exploration in the deteriorating Arctic.
Congress has also now begun its rejection of prioritized pipeline safety regulations with the US House of Representatives’ vote in opposition to the Lois Capps Amendment to the REINS Act on Tuesday, July 28th. The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2015 or REINS Act was passed by the House of Representatives led by the Republican majority and it is designed to prevent the enactment of any and all federal regulations without the approval of Congress. The Amendment proposed by Democratic Representative Lois Capps would have provided an exemption for federal oil and gas pipeline safety and spill mitigation rules from the regulatory review requirements of the REINS Act.
The Capps Amendment was intended to ensure the expedient implementation of the 16 overdue pipeline safety rules required by the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Action Act of 2011. Representative Capps expressed her disappointment with the denial of her Amendment by the House Tuesday due to its emphatic bipartisan criticism of the PHMSA during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing merely two weeks before the decisive vote. A commitment to veto the Act has been made by the President. Yet, the REINS Act and the Capps Amendment denial are indicative of the sentiment towards oil and gas production and exploration safety in Congress.
For activists, the balances of environmental justice are now weighed by a lack of sufficient federal oversight that could prevent irreparable damage. The drive to meet growing energy demands has taken a toll on renewable energy investments and placed an increasing amount of emphasis on carbon energy exploration far into the future. Despite massive oil spills in recent months, Congress and federal agencies alike have done very little to address the many reasonable concerns of activists.