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. 

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/gsfc/7348953774/

Greenpeace Releases New Photos from BP Oil Spill

bp-oil-spill-sea-turtles-greenpeaceAfter two years, new pictures and information from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are finally coming to light. Thanks to the efforts made by environmental advocate Greenpeace, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released 300 photos taken in 2010 between April 20th and July 30th. Greenpeace filed a request in August of 2010 in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act. Greenpeace asked that any information related to endangered and threatened Gulf species be released. Finally after years of waiting, Greenpeace received the first batch of files in the form of these shocking pictures.

The pictures depict oil-drenched turtles, boxes and trash bags full of dead turtles, unhealthy turtles with cysts, dead turtles found on the beach, as well as sperm whales swimming through oil slicks. The photos reveal the other side of the optimistic view portrayed by federal officials and BP spokespeople at the time of the spill. For instance, photos were released of turtles from the gulf being saved and reintroduced to the wild.

By the time the spill was contained, NOAA said it recovered 613 dead sea turtles from the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Of those they relocated 274 turtle nests to Florida regions. There are five turtle species in the Gulf of Mexico; four of which are endangered and the fifth species are listed as threatened. Besides the obvious damage to the Gulf’s wildlife and the ecological health of the Gulf, 11 workers died.

On Friday May 4th, 2012 BP won a huge delay for a civil trial that will assign damages from the disaster. The new trial date is set for 2013. Given that this is the worst marine spill in United States history, BP is getting off easy by offering settlements for private parties outside of court. Unfortunately, the private settlements affect only private parties and have no effect on the interests of the federal government of Gulf Coast states. The United States government and the state of Alabama have asked that the trial not be postponed beyond the coming summer. If BP is granted further delays they may never have to answer to or be liable for the damages caused. For instance, Mother Jones published reports of eyeless shrimp, toxic beaches, dead dolphins, and Gulf oysters full of heavy metals.

In March 2012, BP agreed to pay an estimated $7.8 billion dollars in damages to private plaintiffs, whose claims ranged from clean-up related injuries, economic loss, and property damage. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that criminal charges might still be filed for the Macondo blowout, which caused the most damage. Already BP Plc engineer Kurt Mix has been arrested as of April 24th, 2012. He was charged with intentionally destroying evidence about the size of the spill.

While hundreds of lawsuits have been filed, including hundreds against BP, the Swiss based operator of the rig, Transocean, and Halliburton, which provided the cementing services.  The potential trial will cover federal and state government pollution claims. But more needs to be done.

Investigations have shown that there were lax regulations of the rig and BP was more concerned with cost cutting rather than worker safety and environmental protection. The government is complicit in such violations unless regulations are enforced to enhance blowout preventers and upgraded safety devices. To encourage Congress and President Obama to pass legislation holding the oil industry accountable and reforming regulatory processes, check out this petition from Public Citizen. It will protect workers and the environment from extraordinary disasters like the one in the Gulf. It will prevent its effects, which we are still learning of everyday.

Photo credit: nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/images/oilspill/kempsridleyturtle_brianstacy_noaa_gadnr.jpg

Bananas: Brought to You by Dirty Oil?

Environmentalists are calling out two of the biggest US fruit companies for their role in what may be the most destructive industrial project on the planet: the tar sands oil extraction zone in Alberta, Canada.  At the same time that thousands of people are descending on Washington, DC to urge President Obama to nix a new tar sands oil pipeline, groups like ForestEthics are asking Dole and Chiquita not to use tar sands oil in their trucks.

Tar sands oil is considered one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet.  Unlike conventional crude oil, it must be extracted from a rock-like substance called bitumen—a process that consumes large amounts of energy and gives tar sands oil an even bigger carbon footprint than regular oil.  Mining for bitumen in Alberta is also transforming vast areas of boreal forest into industrial wasteland, and will destroy more forest if the project is allowed to continue.

Help stop the tar sands extraction project by signing a petition to Dole and Chiquita!

“If tar sands development continues unchecked, we will lose an area of boreal forest the size of Maine, said ForestEthics volunteer Naomi Konopka on Friday, at a protest outside a Safeway that sells bananas from Dole and Chiquita.  Volunteers handed out “tar covered” (actually chocolate-covered) bananas to curious passersby, and used an eight-foot banana costume to pique the interest of store customers.

The event was one of three protests that occurred last week and over the weekend, in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon.  Each took places outside of a store that sells produce from Dole and Chiquita.  

Oil probably isn’t the first thing you think about while shopping in the fruit aisle at the store.  However it takes an incredible amount of fuel to transport bananas and other fruit by truck, from plantations in Central America to shelves in US supermarkets.  This means fruit companies like Dole and Chiquita are major consumers of oil.

It also means these companies have enough purchasing clout to influence oil industry decisions.  ForestEthics is calling on Dole and Chiquita to use this power for good, by pledging not to fuel their truck fleets with tar sands oil.  This would send a message to oil companies and the Canadian government that the future lies in shifting to cleaner fuels, not mining for even dirtier forms of petroleum in the boreal forest.

“With fifty percent of the world’s banana production, Dole and Chiquita have a responsibility to avoid the worst fuels—like those from the tar sands,” said Adam Gaya, an organizer for ForestEthics.

ForestEthics launched its Dole and Chiquita campaign earlier this summer, as part of an international day of action to stop the tar sands.  At events scattered across the US, Canada, and Europe, activists called on the fruit giants and other companies involved in the tar sands to embrace clean energy instead of dirty oil.  The request isn’t unrealistic: twenty Fortune 1000 companies have already pledged to work toward reducing or eliminating their dependence on tar sands oil.

This month the pressure on Dole and Chiquita continues.  Besides the three protests held last week, ForestEthics is collecting thousands of “customer complaints” from supermarket shoppers who want to see Dole and Chiquita abandon ties to the tar sands.  ForestEthics is also running full-page ads in papers in Cincinnati and Los Angeles—the hometowns of Chiquita and Dole—accusing the companies of encouraging dirty oil development.

On Wednesday thousands of ForestEthics supporters logged onto Dole’s and Chiquita’s Facebook pages to post links to the ads and make their feelings about the tar sands known.  The pages received so much traffic that comments on Chiquita’s page were temporarily shut down.

ForestEthics organizers are hopeful their efforts will begin to pay off, as they start to get Dole’s and Chiquita’s attention.  “Americans want companies to use clean energy, not the dirtiest fuels on earth,” said Konopka at Friday’s protest in Portland.  “This is a fun way to educate consumers about how their products get to them, and help them take action.”

Please help stop the tar sands, by signing the petition to Dole and Chiquita

Photo credit: ForestEthics

Thousands to Join Sit-In Against New Oil Pipeline

This weekend hundreds of people are gathering in Washington, DC for one of the biggest acts of mass civil disobedience the climate movement has yet seen.  Between August 20th and September 3rd, over two thousand people will risk arrest outside the White House, to protest one of the most massive new fossil fuel projects proposed in the United States.

Their focus is the Keystone XL pipeline—an oil pipeline that, if built, would transport some of the world’s dirtiest fuel from Canada, down through the Midwestern United States to Texas.  Leading environmental groups and the nation’s most respected climate scientists say building the pipeline would be a disaster for the climate, cementing US dependence on oil while triggering a “carbon bomb” that could tip the planet toward irreversible global warming.

Oil companies hope to use Keystone XL to transport oil from the Canadian tar sands in Alberta to the US oil market.  Tar sands oil is a particularly dirty form of petroleum, extracted from a tar-like rock called bitumen.  Because large amounts of energy are needed to separate oil from bitumen, tar sands oil has a higher carbon footprint than almost any oil in the world. 

The tar sands also happen to be the world’s second-largest known petroleum deposit.  Tapping into that deposit could pave the way for continued reliance on oil for decades to come in the US, making catastrophic global warming all but impossible to avoid.  According to NASA climate scientist James Hansen, opening the tar sands to unrestrained oil development would mean “essentially game over” for a stable climate.

Sign a petition to President Obama opposing the Keystone XL pipeline!

Thus the sit-in that starts this weekend, during which over a thousand people will risk arrest for trespassing on the White House steps.  They’re urging President Obama to withhold his approval of Keystone XL, and prevent the project from moving forward.  But they aren’t planning a typical protest.  Indeed, many participants will be wearing the Obama ’08 pins and buttons they sported during the presidential elections three years ago. 

They are hoping to remind the president of his pledge to halt global warming, and convince him to nix one of the single largest threats to a stable climate.  In this sense, the thousand-plus gathering isn’t about protesting President Obama’s policies, so much as reminding him of principles he pledged to fight for on the campaign trail.

Acts of civil disobedience are not particularly uncommon in Washington, DC, where protesters often risk arrest for trespassing.  However the Keystone XL sit-in is different.  Not only will it involve a much larger number of people than are usually arrested at any single action—it will go on for a much longer time.

Protesters are planning to descend on the White House steps in stages, over a period of two weeks.  Every day between seventy-five and a hundred people will sit down in front of the White House and risk arrest, to be replaced by another wave of people the following day. 

The sit-in will target President Obama, because the Obama administration must give the go-ahead before Keystone XL can break ground.  The permitting process for pipelines that cut across national borders means the president himself must give a stamp of approval, quite independent from any act by Congress or other elected officials. 

“For once,” wrote author and activist Bill McKibben in a recent piece for the Washington Post, “the president will get to make an important call all by himself.” 

McKibben is one of twelve activists, scientists, and public figures who signed a letter earlier this year asking people from around the US to join the sit-in.  That call has so far been answered more than two thousand times over, as groups of concerned citizens prepare to travel by carpool and caravan to the protest. 

Success is certainly not guaranteed.  But by harnessing the power of principled civil disobedience, the voters converging in Washington, DC hope to remind President Obama why he was put into office.

If they succeed, the forecast for the Earth’s future will look a lot brighter.  

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/tom_lohdan/4217661984/

Shell Agrees to Pay for Cleanup of Oil Spilled in Nigeria

When Shell Oil found petroleum in Africa’s Niger Delta (pictured at left) more than fifty years ago, it sparked a half-century long battle between one of the word’s biggest oil companies and local communities affected by oil pollution.  The fight over oil in the Niger Delta has been one of the longest and bloodiest environmental battles in the world, and is certainly far from over.

However this month community activists scored an important victory that could turn the tide against Shell.  After being sued over damage from two massive oil spills that occurred in 2008 and early 2009, the oil giant accepted legal responsibility for the spills.  This means Shell could be required to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to communities in the Niger Delta, to aid a cleanup effort that could take up to two decades to finish.

The Niger Delta in southern Nigeria is among the most productive oil extraction zones in Africa.  Nigeria is also the most populated country on the African continent, with hundreds of thousands of people living in areas that are highly impacted by oil industry operations.  Because the oil industry in Nigeria is relatively unregulated, practices that would be illegal in the United States or Europe are a routine occurrence in the Niger Delta.

Since 1989, an estimated 7,000 oil spills of varying size have occurred in the region, polluting local water supplies.  Another environmentally dangerous practice connected with oil is that of natural gas “flaring.”  Unwanted gas found in oil wells is burned or flared by companies like Shell, posing safety issues for nearby populations and contributing to climate change.  If the natural gas now flared by oil companies was instead used to generate energy, it could meet over 40% of Africa’s natural gas demand.

While damage to the environment is a regular occurrence in the Niger Delta, two oil spills that occurred close together a couple of years ago were particularly devastating.  In late 2008 and early 2009, two accidents at Shell operations spilled an amount of oil roughly equivalent to that released in Alaska’s Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.

As much as ten million gallons of oil from the two spills seeped into the water supplies of Bodo, a community of about 69,000 people, as well as dozens of smaller villages in the region of the Niger Delta known as Ogoniland.  In contrast to oil spills in the US, which are usually dealt with right away, Shell at first made no attempt to clean up toxic sludge from the spills.

Only now, after a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of communities in Ogoniland, has UK-based Shell agreed to accept cleanup responsibility for the accidents.  Removing all the oil spilled in 2008 and 2009 is a process expected to take up to twenty years to complete.  The fact that Shell has accepted responsibility is a major victory for Nigerian activists, and may set a precedent that makes it easier for impacted communities to receive compensation from oil companies in the future.

Winning the right to challenge oil industry operations hasn’t been easy for the residents of Bodo and other villages in Ogoniland.  In the 1990s, eight anti-oil organizers from the region were executed by Nigeria’s government after causing problems for the oil industry.  The Nigerian government has historically been a strong supporter of Shell in the Niger Delta, with locals saying it is hard to tell the difference between hired company thugs and pro-oil government security forces.

However publicity around the deaths of the activists sparked an international outcry over oil industry activities in Nigeria.  And far from being intimidated, residents of impacted communities continued to push for the cleanup of their land and water.  Shell’s acceptance of responsibility for two of the biggest spills in recent years is a sign these efforts are at last paying off.  It’s also hopeful news for communities everywhere who seek compensation for pollution from the oil industry.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/terry_wha/1135784069/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Montana Governor’s Support for Oil Draws Protest

On Tuesday over one hundred environmental and climate justice activists marched into the Montana state capitol to protest Governor Brian Schweitzer’s support for some of the largest and most destructive new oil projects in North America.  Six members of the group chained themselves together with PVC pipe in the governor’s office, announcing their plans to remain there unless Governor Schweitzer publicly renounced his support for the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, and the transportation of massive pieces of tar sands mining equipment through Montana.

Participants in the protest, which was organized by the grassroots environmental groups Earth First! and Northern Rockies Rising Tide, criticized the governor’s support for the oil industry in light of a recent oil spill in Montana’s Yellowstone River.  The spill was caused by a rupture in ExxonMobil’s Silvertip pipeline that has leaked at least a thousand barrels of oil into the water. 

“If the Governor has his way, Montana will be transformed into what is essentially an energy extraction colony for Big Oil,” said Peter Dolan, a native of Great Falls, Montana who joined the occupation of Governor Schweitzer’s office.  “The Silvertip spill is simply a short preview of what this would mean for the lives and livelihood of all Montanans.”

Though Schweitzer has expressed public outrage at the Silvertip spill and criticized Exxon’s response to the accident, environmentalists say he is being hypocritical.  At a time when scientists are still struggle to determine the full impacts of the spill on the Yellowstone’s riverine ecosystems and nearby land used for farming, Schweitzer has continued to support new oil projects in and around the state—most notably mining and pipeline infrastructure connected with the tar sands oil project in the Canadian province of Alberta.

Tar sands oil is a particularly dirty form of petroleum that requires large amounts of energy and water to extract and refine it into gasoline.  The tar sands extraction zone in Alberta has become the world’s largest source of industrial carbon emissions, and is the main reason Canada will not meet goals for reducing climate change it committed to under the Kyoto Protocol.  Mining for tar sands oil has destroyed vast areas of old growth forest in Canada, while polluting streams used for drinking water with toxic chemicals. 

However while Canada is the main country mining tar sands deposits for petroleum, the major demand for tar sands oil comes from the United States.  Oil giant TransCanada has proposed building a 2,000 mile pipeline, known as Keystone XL, to transport tar sands oil from Alberta through Montana and other states, and eventually to Texas.  Meanwhile Exxon is using Montana roads to transport giant pieces of mining equipment to Alberta for use in the tar sands.  Schweitzer supports both projects.

“Governor Schweitzer is attempting to turn Montana into an extraction state, while at the same time publicly proclaiming his supposed support for clean energy, protecting the environment and building healthy communities,” said Bozeman resident Erica Dossa at Tuesday’s protest.  “It’s one or the other. You can’t be clean and dirty at the same time.” 

The protesters remained in the governor’s office for over four hours, until police arrested and removed five of the activists participating in the lockdown.  Before that happened, Schweitzer came out and agreed to talk to the activists but refused to withdraw his support for the oil industry.  Meanwhile outside, a few activists hung a banner from the capitol flagpole that read “Pipelines Spill, Tar Sands Kill, Big Oil Out of Montana.” 

Environmental activists have plans for further acts of civil disobedience to protest tar sands mining.  Later this summer hundreds of citizens will descend on Washington, DC to express dissatisfaction over the Obama administration’s support for the Keystone XL pipeline, with plans to get arrested if necessary.  Just as the Silvertip pipeline spill is a small glimpse of what could happen if a rupture ever occurred in the Keystone XL pipeline, Tuesday’s protest at the Montana capitol may be just a preview of what government officials will face as further tar sands development moves forward.  

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/icanchangethisright/2532628017/

Oil Spill Hits the Yellowstone River

A rupture in an Exxon Mobil oil pipeline Friday night has spilled at least 42,000 gallons of crude oil into Montana’s Yellowstone River, contaminating drinking and irrigation water while damaging riparian ecosystems in one of the most pristine wild rivers left in the United States.  Around 140 people were evacuated from their homes over the weekend, to escape toxic fumes from the oil spill and because of the possibility that the damaged pipeline could explode. 

By Sunday a plume of oil from the spill site had extended twenty-five miles down the river, coating riverfront properties and farmland in a slick, toxic goo.  Smaller amounts of oil have been found nearly 250 miles downstream.  Though Exxon is attempting to deal with the spill, cleanup efforts have been hampered by surging floodwaters fed by melting mountain glaciers.  The strong river current makes getting into the water to remove the oil difficult, and also threatens to push the oil even further downstream.

The timing of the spill is also particularly bad for nearby farmers, who are finding it difficult to irrigate their fields during the summer growing season due to contamination of the river.  It could take weeks or months before water from the Yellowstone is safe to use for irrigation and drinking again.

The Yellowstone River, which flows through Yellowstone National Park, across a large stretch of Montana, and into North Dakota where it feeds the Missouri River, is the longest undammed river in the contiguous forty-eight United States.  Renowned for it scenic beauty, it passes through canyons, wilderness areas, and farmland.  In addition to serving as a source of water for drinking and irrigation, the Yellowstone is also much-loved by anglers and river rafters.

The scenic and economic importance of the Yellowstone makes the oil spill from Exxon Mobil’s pipeline particularly worrying.  The twelve-inch diameter pipeline, which crosses beneath the river on its way to an oil refinery in Billings, Montana, ruptured for a reason that has yet to be determined.  However raging floodwaters may have scraped away the mud at the bottom of the river and uncovered the pipeline, which is normally buried beneath the river bed.  A floating log or other piece of debris swept up in the floodwaters could have hit and punctured the pipeline, causing the leak.

The spill is the latest in a string of oil-related environmental disasters occurring in the last year and a half, and a reminder that accidents are an inevitable part of life in the oil industry.  Almost one year ago, on July 25th, 2010, a ruptured pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy spilled close to 20,000 barrels of oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, causing die-offs of fish and birds in what has been called one of the worst environmental disasters in the state.  Slightly over one month earlier, a Chevron-owned oil pipeline in Salt Lake City spilled 20,000 gallons into the area’s Red Butte Creek. 

Most famous of all, of course, is the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico that occurred in spring of last year.  Today marine wildlife and fishing-dependent Gulf economies are still suffering the from the impacts of that spill, which has been recognized as the largest oil spill and one of the worst environmental accidents in US history. 

Pipelines that pass beneath rivers and creeks are particularly prone to serious spills, both because debris in the moving water can puncture them, and because once a spill occurs oil is swept downstream and quickly spread over a wide area. 

The leak in the pipeline beneath the Yellowstone River now appears to be sealed, though it took Exxon twice as long to stop the flow of oil as it had originally disclosed to the public.  According to documents released by the Department of Transportation it took almost an hour to seal the link, whereas Exxon had said it had the problem under control after half an hour.  How long it will take to clean up the oil remains to be seen.  

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/rebcal/4150884009/

Public Spotlight Shown on Tar Sands Oil Impacts

On Saturday an international coalition of environmental groups, including the Canada and US-based Forest Ethics, kicked off a global campaign to stop what might be the most environmentally destructive oil project in history.  The groups are calling on governments and large corporations to end their support for the Canadian Tar Sands project, which is devastating vast areas of forest in the province of Alberta in order to send a particularly dirty form of oil to the US market. 

At more than twenty events in the United States, and dozens more in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere throughout the world, volunteers planned creative protests to draw attention to governments and corporations involved in the tar sands.  In supermarket produce aisles from New York City to Seattle, activists unfurled banners calling on fruit producers Dole and Chiquita to stop using tar sands oil to fuel their trucks.  In Canada protests focused on the Canadian government’s support for tar sands development, and in Europe protests took place outside Canadian embassies and banks that are financing tar sands extraction.

At an event in Portland, Oregon activists walked into a Safeway wearing shirts that read “Chiquita: Now that’s a Rotten Banana.  Say No to Tar Sands Fueled Transportation.”  The group unfurled a banner behind the banana produce section, and acted out a skit criticizing Chiquita and Safeway for their use of tar sands oil.  The group then walked out of the store chanting “Hey Chiquita, what do we say?  Stop using tar sands oil today.”

According to Forest Ethics, the tar sands “are emerging as a 

focal point of discussion about the future of energy production and consumption” worldwide.  The tar sands are the fastest-growing center of oil production on the planet, and the tar sands project in Alberta has become the world’s largest source of industrial carbon emissions.  Unlike conventional crude oil, petroleum in the tar sands is tied up in a rock-like substance called bitumen, making extraction of the oil exceedingly expensive and energy-intensive. 

Largely due to the energy needed to extract and refine petroleum from the tar sands, the oil produced has a lifecycle carbon footprint up to three times greater than conventional oil.  The extraction process also involves clearing huge tracts of Canada’s old growth forests, threatening an area the size of Scotland with imminent deforestation.  Toxic sludge left over from extraction and refinement is stored in giant tailings ponds that prove to be death traps for migrating birds that land on them.  Toxins from ponds can also leak into local water supplies, posing a serious health hazard for indigenous nations and other nearby communities. 

Based on these dangers, groups like Forest Ethics and Greenpeace are calling on governments and corporations to avoid purchasing oil from refineries fed by the tar sands.  So far twelve major companies—including Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Walgreens—have pledged to reduce or eliminate tar sands fuel from their vehicle fleets.  The city of Bellingham, Washington has also established a policy to avoid using tar sands oil.  Now environmental organizations are looking to other companies to join the bandwagon.

Chiquita and Dole, both of which use large truck fleets for shipping bananas to the United States from plantations in Latin America—have not responded to attempts by Forest Ethics to start a dialogue about reducing their reliance on the tar sands.  This prompted many US organizers preparing for Saturday’s international day of action to plan their events with a focus on these two corporations.  Forest Ethics hopes pressure from customers and the public will persuade Dole and Chiquita to join other companies that are eliminating tar sands oil from their truck fleets.

This strategy has worked before.  Beginning in the 1980s and continuing on into the early twenty-first century, Forest Ethics used public pressure campaigns to build corporate and government support for protecting Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest from logging.  These efforts won legislation in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia that will protect tens of millions of acres from the timber industry. 

While this remains a landmark victory in the fight against irresponsible logging, the same forests are now threatened by pollution and deforestation from proposed tar sand oil pipelines.  In response the wheels of grassroots organizing and public pressure campaigns have begun turning again, as an international network emerges to safeguard one of North America’s greatest forests from the energy-hungry oil industry.  

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/dianeworth/4319074859/

Environmental Groups Petition Against Shell’s Oil Exploration Plan In Gulf Of Mexico

After the U.S. Government approved Shell’s proposal for five oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico, numerous environmental groups have taken action against the plan.

More than 7,000 feet underwater, the proposed oil wells are located 72 miles off the coast of Louisiana. The wells would be more than 2,000 feet deeper than the BP well that failed in April 2010 and resulted in one the worst oil spills in history.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement approved Shell’s proposal in May. Shell’s proposal came soon after Exxon Mobil announced the discovery of a substantial oil reserve while drilling 7,000 feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico. The reserve contains at least 700 million barrels of oil equivalent and Exxon Mobil calls it “one of the largest discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico in the last decade.” The company also discovered a reserve of natural gas along with the oil reserves.

The environmental groups Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a petition in the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta against the government’s approval of Shell’s oil exploration plan. Citing experts and engineers, the groups argue oil exploration in the Gulf is “illegal’ and that there is no evidence that drilling 7,000 feet underwater is safe. More than a year after the BP disaster, experts believe oil companies are still not capable of handling oil leaks and accidents deep underwater if they were to happen again. Additionally, the location of the proposed wells pose another problem in the event of an accident; it would take time for emergency crews to reach the wells 72 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

After the BP oil spill, much attention was turned to oil companies involved in deep sea oil drilling and prompted the U.S. Government to enact stricter regulations regarding deep sea oil drilling. However, in October, these regulations were relaxed and oil companies began to file proposals for drilling once again.

Shell argues that the environmental groups are ignoring “the comprehensive nature of the approved exploration plan.” Shell claims their oil exploration plan addresses concerns with safety and impacts on the environment.

Shell adds that the groups are protesting something that has yet to happen. The government’s approval of the oil exploration plan does not allow the company to drill yet. Shell must be issued a separate drilling permit before being able to start drilling the proposed oil wells.

If permitted to drill, Shell estimates up to 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent can be extracted each day and over 140,000 barrels can be recovered by the end of the project’s lifetime.

In March, the U.S Government allowed shell to carry out a separate oil exploration plan 130 miles off the coast of Louisiana. After obtaining a drilling permit, Shell is preparing to begin drilling a new well 2,721 feet deep.

As oil companies resume drilling for oil in the Gulf, President Obama continues to be frowned upon by many environmentalists. Environmental groups accuse the President of disregarding the dangers of deep sea oil drilling, even after seeing firsthand the damage the BP oil spill caused. Says David Guest, an attorney for environmental law firm Earthjustice, “It is as if the government regulators have learned nothing from the BP disaster.”

Despite the potential environmental risks, some believe the newly discovered oil reserve in the Gulf of Mexico will reap economical benefits for the country. Says U.S. Representative Fred Upton, R-Mich. and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, “The prospect of new American-made energy supplies means less pain at the pump for American families and more American jobs.”

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/aedeacon/1512636209/

Oil Company Profits Shoot Up, Obama Calls for End to Subsidies

Oil companies are poised to record their biggest quarterly profits since 2008 amid sharply higher gasoline prices. According to analysts, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Chevron are expected to report $18.2 billion in combined earnings for the first quarter of 2011. 
These earnings are a 40 percent increase from this time last year, and just short of the record $20.2 billion they earned in the first quarter of 2008.
The oil companies are set to release their earnings figures at the same time President Obama has ratcheted up calls to eliminate tax subsidies for the oil companies. Initially, it looked like House Speaker Boehner was going to support Obama’s efforts to reduce the subsidies. However, the Speaker has recently backed off from that support and has opted for a more traditional Republican stance that tax subsidies are necessary to encourage domestic oil exploration.

Photo credit: fueleconomy.gov/feg/gasprices/