Shell has announced that it will not conduct offshore drilling operations in the Alaska Arctic this year. The announcement is a victory for millions who called, wrote letters and signed petitions pointing out the extreme risk of a major oil spill, and the scientific data that showed neither Shell nor the government was prepared to respond adequately to such a catastrophe.
Despite much controversy and public outcry, in 2011 the Obama administration gave Royal Dutch Shell the green light to begin drilling for oil in the frigid waters of Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Since then, the petroleum giant has faced unending opposition from the scientific and environmental communities.
After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the National Oil Spill Commission identified “the failure to plan effectively for a large-scale, difficult-to-contain spill” in the Arctic as one of the “three critical issues or gaps in the government’s existing response capacity.” And at the time Shell’s drilling plan was approved, Commandant Admiral Robert Papp admitted to members of Congress that the federal government currently has “zero” spill-response capability in the Arctic.
It was with much dread that we watched Shell’s drillships race for the arctic August of 2012. Then, as if to confirm our fears, we watched Shell’s Kulluk oil rig, carrying 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel and petroleum products on board, run aground near Alaska’s Kodiak Island. This mishap would only be the first in a series of embarrassing blunders that laid plain Shell’s complete inadequacy and lack of a safety culture.
Thankfully, instead pushing until the point of an oil spill, Shell admitted defeat and announced that it would abandon its Arctic drilling plans for the remainder of 2013. The decision to “pause” Arctic drilling during the upcoming ice-free months of summer will allow the company to repair and retool its troubled rigs and prepare for future operations in a program that has already cost the company nearly $5 billion, according to the LA Times.
“This comes as no surprise,” said Lois Epstein, an Alaska-licensed engineer and Arctic Program Director for The Wilderness Society. “Shell has had numerous, serious problems in getting to and from the Arctic as well as problems operating in the Arctic. Shell’s managers have not been straight with the American public, and possibly even with its own investors, on how difficult its Arctic Ocean operations have been this past year.”
But we can’t forget that this is only a temporary delay. The Care2 community must use this opportunity to make the case for why Arctic drilling is far too dangerous and not economically responsible. Please continue to add your name to anti-drilling petitions to show that we will not rest until Shell is permanently banned from the Arctic.
Image: The oil drilling ship Noble Discoverer, seen April 5, 2012 in the Port of Seattle before its trip to Alaska for the summer Arctic drilling season. Credit: jkbrooks85/Flickr