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.
Following global protests, a series of embarrassing mishaps, and a lengthy regulatory process, Dutch Royal Shell has announced it is abandoning its hugely controversial off-shore oil drilling in the Arctic—this year. The announcement came after the company damaged a containment dome meant to cap an oil spill. The incident was the latest in a series of delays and problems that oil the giant faced in its $4 billion plan to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.
“Despite billions of dollars in investments, they were still unable to overcome the natural and logistical challenges to safely operate in harsh Arctic conditions,” Layla Hughes, the World Wide Fund for Wildlife (WWF)’S Senior Program Officer for Arctic Oil and Gas Policy, said in a press statement. “While local communities and wildlife may be safe from spills for one more year, we remain concerned that future offshore oil exploration cannot be done without placing those communities at too great a risk.”
Environmental and indigenous groups have long argued that the Arctic’s hazardous conditions—including rogue ice chunks, super storms, and remoteness—make it too risky to drill for offshore oil. However, the Obama Administration has approved Shell’s oil drilling plans every step of the way.
The company says it is still planning on drilling top holes in the Arctic sea floor in preparations for drilling it hopes to undertake next year. Shell attempted to put a bright spin on the announcement arguing that “important progress has been made,” in an online statement.
“As we have said all along, we will not conduct any operation until we are satisfied that we are fully prepared to do it safely,” the company wrote.
But Greenpeace, which has fought Arctic drilling at every step of the way, called the debacle Shell’s “Waterloo.”
“History will show what a catastrophic miscalculation the company has made in the region, and that it has ignored the world’s top scientists as well as the nearly two million people around the world who have joined Greenpeace’s Save the Arctic campaign at its peril,” the activist organization said, adding that “the fragile Arctic environment should be off-limits to industrial exploitation.”
The Arctic is currently undergoing massive changes due to climate change. This year has marked the lowest sea ice extent on record with some scientists predicting that sea ice could disappear altogether for a time in the summer by the end of the decade, a phenomenon which could have major impacts on global weather systems while exacerbating climate change.
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