In July, the U.S. government gave its approval to Royal Dutch Shell to begin exploratory drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska. In September, Shell abandoned its efforts for the “foreseeable future.”
The announcement came after weeks of exploration over the summer, where drilling down to 6,800 feet indicated that oil and gas findings were “not sufficient to warrant further exploration.”
Drilling in the Arctic region would have threatened a great deal of wildlife and people. The region is home to populations of whales, walruses, polar bears, seabirds and other wildlife, as well as local people and communities.
The original drilling site itself would have been risky, too. It was 70 miles from the shore of Alaska and 1,000 miles away from the nearest U.S. Coast Guard station. This, along with with the thick ice and rough sea conditions, would have made it very difficult to detect and contain an accident or oil spill.
Moreover, Shell has had trouble drilling in the recent past, despite spending an estimated $7 billion on exploring the Arctic for seven years. Problems have included damaged vessels, malfunctioning safety equipment, on-board fires and, most noteworthy, the loss of control of its drilling rig in January 2013. That rig ended up grounding on a pristine island in the Gulf of Alaska, proving just how damaging drilling can be even without oil spills.
Director of WWF’s Global Arctic Programme Alexander Shestakov says:
“Shell’s experience illustrates that further investments in oil development in the Arctic are not worth the risk to Arctic life and livelihoods. We hope this will provide a reality check to other companies considering the unpredictable proposition of Arctic drilling, and that investors will transition their funds instead toward low-carbon solutions.”
In addition, the Obama Administration cancelled two potential Arctic offshore oil lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort sea that were also jeopardizing the region. These lease sales were originally scheduled for 2016 and 2017, under the current five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program for 2012-2017. The decision to cancel came in late October and was based on poor market conditions and low industry interest. Fortunately, this decision will mitigate future threats to the region.
These actions represent big wins for environmental and conservation groups like Greenpeace in the battle against fossil fuel burning and greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, they are big wins for the wildlife that resides in the Arctic, the local people and the environment in general.