Written by Frances Beinecke, President, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council)
Shell’s rush to drill off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge produced another blunder this month, when its Kulluk oil rig, carrying 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel and petroleum products on board, ran aground near Alaska’s Kodiak Island.
In the wake of this latest incident, the Interior Department announced last week that it will conduct an expedited assessment of all Arctic offshore drilling operations to determine Shell’s ability to operate safely in the Arctic’s challenging environment.
Interior Secretary Salazar is right that we need to reassess Arctic Ocean drilling. But he’s got to look beyond Shell to whether anyone can safely drill in such a harsh, remote, glorious and fragile place. The lesson from Shell’s debacle this year is that when it comes to the Arctic, human error is commonplace, the environment unforgiving and the industry’s ability to avoid disaster wholly inadequate.
That’s why NRDC and our partners are calling on President Obama to direct his Interior Department to immediately suspend, re-evaluate and then end all oil and gas operations in the Arctic Ocean.
The grounding of Shell’s drilling rig is not an isolated incident. It is part of a larger pattern of risk and failure in which Shell has proven no match for the frigid temperatures, churning seas, punishing winds and prolonged darkness of the fragile Arctic region.
This video, narrated by Robert Redford, reveals some of the other wonders put at risk by Shell’s Arctic drilling plans:
In July, one of Shell’s drill ships nearly ran aground in the Aleutian Islands. That same month, Shell conceded that it would not, as the government understood, collect 90 percent of any oil spill, but only “encounter” that much of it.
The next month, Shell’s spill response barge remained in Bellingham, Wash., because it was plagued with dozens of wiring and other safety problems. Then, just a day after the company started preliminary drilling without the spill response barge on location, its rig the Noble Discoverer was forced to turn and flee from a 30-mile long iceberg.
And in September, Shell’s containment dome was badly damaged during pre-deployment testing in the relatively placid waters of Puget Sound, after which the company announced it was putting its Arctic drilling plans on hold.
The region can’t afford any more of these kinds of mishaps. We must not sacrifice one of our remaining untamed places in reckless pursuit of oil. We know we have to leave oil in the ground or destructive climate change will become unstoppable. It’s time to ask, if we can’t leave it in the dangerous, pristine and vulnerable Arctic Ocean, then where?