Shell Oil Company has experienced a steep drop in earnings recently, and as a result, the company announced that it will stop drilling for oil in Alaska this year. Although it’s not the complete ouster that many environmentalists hope for, the news is a short-term victory worth celebrating.
The fight to keep Shell from desecrating one of the last truly wild and remote ecosystems on Earth has been a long and sordid one. For years, Care2 has reported on the controversial proposal to establish offshore drilling operations in the frigid coastal waters of Alaska.
In 2009, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar approved oil company plans to drill in the delicate Beaufort and Chukchi seas despite the fact that there is currently no technology available to clean up a catastrophic oil spill in the icy Alaskan waters.
As I wrote way back then, Alaska’s northwest coast is a wild and beautiful place, home to many endangered species already struggling with climate change, and introducing noisy, dirty drilling operations would be catastrophic.
Thanks to vocal activists and scientists, however, the plans of Shell and others have been continually stymied. In 2010, a judge temporarily banned the practice while environmental impact assessments could be conducted. In 2011, Shell’s exploratory drilling was blocked again, this time by a ruling that revoked the federal clean-air permits that allowed drilling ships and support vessels to operate in the sensitive region. In 2012, we saw the Russian government rushing to drill sites in the Arctic circle, but Shell’s attempts to drill in Alaskan waters were shelved again. “Just one day into drilling plans, Shell sustained damage to its containment dome — a piece of equipment meant to contain oil in order to avoid hazardous spills. This setback, paired with persistent sea ice floes forced the company to put its drilling plans on hold,” reported Care2′s Kara Foran.
Last year, millions of concerned Americans called, wrote letters and signed petitions pointing out the extreme risk of a major oil spill off the Alaskan coast, and as a result, Shell was forced to cancel its drilling plans for 2013. Now, a drop in earnings and more regulatory trouble have caused Shell to suspend its drilling plans yet again.
A recent announcement by the company’s new CEO Ben van Beurden confirmed that the company’s fourth-quarter profits had dropped by 71 percent to $2.1 billion. That steep decline, coupled with a federal appeals court ruling that the U.S. Interior Department had not properly assessed the risks of drilling in the Arctic before it sold leases for exploration drilling back in 2008, is what sealed Shell’s decision to abandon hopes of drilling in 2014.
“This is a disappointing outcome, but the lack of a clear path forward means that I am not prepared to commit further resources for drilling in Alaska in 2014,” van Beurden said. “We will look to relevant agencies and the Court to resolve their open legal issues as quickly as possible.”
For the sake of the Arctic and our world, we can only hope that’s a failure, too.
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