Shell Won’t Drill in the Arctic This Year

Earlier this month, Shell Oil announced that it will not begin drilling for oil in the Arctic this year, due to numerous problems with its equipment. Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, say that the decision came after millions of petition signers and environmental activists spoke out against the drilling. The projected drilling sites are in the Chukchi Sea 70 miles off the northwest Alaskan coast and in the Beaufort Sea in northwest Canada.

“There are many reasons Shell wasn’t able to drill this year, but the big culprit is Shell’s own lack of preparedness. From not meeting its Clean Air permits to a damaged oil spill containment dome, Shell showed that it just couldn’t drill safely,” says the Sierra Club. It is clear “that the unpredictability of the Arctic environment, from sea ice to storms, makes the Arctic one of the most challenging places to work in the world.”

Shell has admitted that it is not prepared to drill in the Arctic. While testing a containment dome that would collect oil in the event of a spill, the dome malfunctioned. One of the company’s oil containment barges has not been able to obtain certification from the United States Coast Guard, due to fluid leaks and problems with safety systems and onboard stowage.

“Company officials said they will continue to drill “top holes” off the Alaskan coast through the end of this season’s drilling window, but will not attempt to reach any oil deposits this year,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

While top holes are not deep enough to reach underground oil, they can be further drilled and expanded to become oil wells in the future. Drilling in the Arctic is hazardous due to harsh and unpredictable environmental conditions, and could have massive negative effects on the environment and wildlife – including polar bears – if a spill were to occur. Additionally, Greenpeace found deep-sea soft corals in the drilling area of the Chukchi Sea this summer, but Shell has denied that its drilling operations would significantly and permanently harm the corals.

Amidst halting its oil drilling operations, Shell Oil, whose global headquarters are in the Netherlands, sued Greenpeace International (also based in the Netherlands) last week over protests by the environmental organization. Shell claims that protests conducted by Greenpeace supporters and activists have gone too far, citing a recent event in which protesters obstructed more than 70 of the company’s gas stations in the Netherlands. Shell is seeking a six-month restraining order against Greenpeace that would require all of the organization’s protests to be held more than 500 meters (1,640 feet) away from Shell’s properties or face a $1.3 million fine. The pending lawsuit will be settled soon in Dutch courts and will only apply to protests held in the Netherlands.

Environmental organizations – including the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Credo Action – have all pressured the federal government to stop Shell from drilling in the Arctic. The federal government has expressed support for Shell and for domestic oil production recently, but if the United States wants to play a leading role in stopping climate change, becoming less reliant on foreign oil – or, better, oil in general – and developing forward-thinking ways of responsibly using natural resources as forms of energy, the federal government must take action and invest in cleaner energy. To express your approval for Shell’s actions in halting its drilling plans for this year, and to urge the federal government to prohibit further drilling and environmental damage in the Arctic, sign the Sierra Club’s petition and encourage your friends and family to add their names as well. 

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