NGOs call on Obama Administration to suspend Arctic oil drilling after series of blunders

Jeremy Hance
January 10, 2013

 Approximate site of preliminarily approved drilling by Shell in the Chukchi Sea. Pink outline is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Image made with Google Earth.
Approximate site of preliminarily approved drilling by Shell in the Chukchi Sea. Pink outline is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Image made with Google Earth.

A coalition of 17 conservation groups are calling on the Obama Administration to suspend offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic after Shell's attempt to drill there has been undermined by a series of mishaps. Shell's long stream of problems was capped this month when the company lost control of its drilling rig which ran aground on Sitkalidak Island in southern Alaska. Officials have now warned that up to 272 gallons of diesel fuel may have spilled from the rig's lifeboats.

"These recent events, combined with a long laundry list of other failures and mishaps, show that Shell has made clear that the Arctic drilling program recklessly risks human life, coastal communities and the environment. We simply should not be drilling in extreme, sensitive and special areas like America’s Arctic Ocean," Cindy Shogan, Executive Director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said.

The Alaska Wilderness League, along with 16 other NGOs including Greenpeace and the National Audubon Society, have sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, noting other problems over the year with Shell's equipment.

"Shell lost control of its other drill rig, the Noble Discoverer in a protected harbor, and that rig’s operation is now under criminal investigation for potential safety and pollution violations. Shell's 'state-of-the-art' spill response barge did not get timely Coast Guard certifications, and its 'containment dome' failed spectacularly during testing in calm water," the letter contends.

Salazar has announced a 60 day investigation into Shell's problems.

Environmental and indigenous groups have long been critical of the Obama Administration's approval of offshore drilling in the Arctic, given that the region is notorious for harsh weather and unpredictable seas. Add in floating ice chunks and inaccessibility, and critics say drilling in Arctic waters is a recipe for disaster. Shell, which has spent $4.5 billion to drill near the top of the world, has long dismissed such criticisms and touted its equipment, but recent events may push the government to determine that Shell was in over its head.

"Suspending Arctic oil and gas activities will provide the time to carefully reassess whether and how offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean is possible or prudent," the letter concludes.

A broader criticism, however, is the irony of drilling for more fossil fuels in the Arctic even as the region's sea ice vanishes due to fossil fuel-caused climate change. Sea ice is not only vital for many Arctic species such as polar bears, seals, and walruses, but recent research has hinted it may even play a role in weather patterns worldwide.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (January 10, 2013).

NGOs call on Obama Administration to suspend Arctic oil drilling after series of blunders.