Earlier this month, activist organization National Audubon Society wrote a story alleging that the regulations governing Arctic oil and gas projects had been deliberately skewed in order to facilitate Shell’s drilling plans. Audubon claims that Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) officials “cut corners” and conducted evaluations “at a breakneck pace” – employees had to work overtime, over the weekend, and over the holidays! – in order to “accommodate Shell’s drilling timeline” and to “deliver Shell a speedy decision.”
You would think, after reading Audubon’s narrative, that these officials had only been given weeks, if not days, to prepare the reports from scratch. In reality, not only has BOEM been preparing Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and Environmental Assessments (EA) for Arctic oil and gas activities since 1985, giving the agency a wealth of background information and research to draw from, but in Shell’s case, it took BOEM three years to issue an Environmental Assessment.
Furthermore, Audubon’s claims had already been firmly rejected by DOI’s Inspector General (IG) in a report released on December 7th. The IG’s investigation was prompted by an unnamed official “alleging potential scientific integrity misconduct,” specifically, the “manipulation of scientific analysis and findings by a non-scientist manager for political purposes” regarding BOEM’s supplementary EIS (SEIS) covering the Chukchi lease sale where industry paid billions for the opportunity to explore for oil and gas.
After investigating these claims, DOI’s IG wrote that the “non-scientist managers” in question “did not change the scientific analysis or findings”:
“We compared the draft SEIS with the final SEIS and determined that non-scientist managers edited the draft SEIS but did not change the scientific analysis or findings.”
The IG also affirmed the scientific integrity of the report:
“We did not assess or opine on the scientific quality of the SEIS, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal agency charged with reviewing the scientific adequacy of Environmental Impact Statement (including SEISs), determined that the document contained ‘adequate information,’ which is EPA’s highest rating for an SEIS.”
For these reasons, the DOI promptly ended the investigation:
“Given that the Report did not find any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of any employees involved in this matter, we are not taking further action specific to this investigation.”
Even though Audubon filled its story with voices of disgruntled employees – “‘Yes, its [sic] Saturday night and I’m in the office”’ – it was forced to acknowledge the IG’s main finding, albeit burying it in the 28th paragraph: “The Inspector General concluded that BOEM officials did not alter scientific findings.” Likewise, Alaska Dispatch News, in an article misleadingly titled “Report: Political pressure prompted hasty environmental review of Shell’s Arctic play,” ultimately had to concede, “The inspector general’s report issued Monday did not find fault with the supplemental EIS’s ultimate findings…or the science used to back that finding.”
By contrast, national media outlets readily reported the IG’s chief finding up top in the ledes: E&E News wrote that DOI managers “did not alter any of the science” behind the SEIS; Politico explained that the SEIS “was not scientifically altered to benefit the oil industry”; and the Associated Press reported that DOI officials preparing the SEIS “did not compromise its quality.”
Given that the DOI, after reviewing the IG’s report, “did not find any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of any employees involved in this matter,” why would Audubon continue to rehash allegations that had already been put to rest? That would be because the organization has joined other environmental activist groups in not one but two lawsuits fighting Shell’s Arctic operations, as Alaska Dispatch News explains:
“The magazine is published by the National Audubon Society, one of the environmental groups that sued to block the 2008 lease sale in which Shell spent $2.1 billion for exploratory tracts in the Chukchi Sea.”
Headquartered in New York, Audubon – and its co-plaintiffs – represents the “outsiders” reviled by Native Alaskans for “try[ing] to speak for Alaskans, but…know little about our communities or our way of life, and…how vital Arctic resource development is for thousands of Alaskans.”
Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold is a vocal critic of Arctic operations, and when Shell decided to withdraw from the Arctic in September, Audubon Alaska’s Executive Director Nils Warnock claimed credit, calling it a “big battle that we won.”
Audubon’s enthusiasm, expressed thousands of miles from Alaska, is not at all appreciated by Native Alaskans, who worry that they are being thrown under the bus as part of “save the world” campaigns:
“We’re concerned that the environmentalists are trying to save the world at the expense of the Inupiat people of the Arctic Slope. … That’s our real concern.”
That’s because Native Alaskans view Arctic drilling as a critical means of supporting local communities. Native Alaskans are “invested, far more than any federal or nongovernmental organization, in the resources that lie beneath and within our waters” – including the animals that they depend on in their subsistence way of life – and yet they maintain that Arctic oil and gas resources “can be responsibly developed to support local jobs and provide revenues [for] our communities.”
When activist groups like Audubon – positioning themselves to collect end-of-the-year donations – have to resort to writing hit pieces premised on claims that had already been thoroughly examined and soundly rebutted by the federal government, it becomes quickly apparent that joining frivolous lawsuits just isn’t enough to sustain their fundraising efforts. But clinging to refuted claims makes a mockery of the serious issue of investment in the Arctic, and is an altogether unwelcome distraction in the discussion about America’s energy future.