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.
(09/11/2012) A new film, opening in the U.S. in November, follows the exploits of National Geographic photographer, James Balog, as he attempts to photograph the end of glaciers and great ice sheets, which are diminishing and, in some cases, collapsing under the heat of global climate change. The film, which won a cinematography award at Sundance, documents the lengths one person will go to capture images of a vanishing world.
(09/10/2012) With the approval of the Obama Administration, Royal Dutch Shell began drilling into the ocean floor of the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska yesterday morning. The controversial operation, which has been vehemently opposed by environmental and Native groups, will likely only last a few weeks this year until the Arctic winter sets in. The U.S. government has said that Shell must complete operations by September 24th, however the oil giant has asked for an extension.
(08/30/2012) In the same week that sea ice in the Arctic Ocean hit another record low due to climate change, the Obama Administration has given final approval to Royal Dutch Shell to prepare for exploratory drilling in the region. Vehemently opposed by environmentalists and indigenous groups, the drilling plans are a part of the Obama Administrations ‘all of the above’ energy policy. Whether or not Shell will actually drill a well this season, however, is still up in the air as its oil spill containment barge remains docked in Washington state for an upgrade that could last several days.
(08/27/2012) One of the most visible impacts of climate change—melting summer sea ice in the Arctic—just hit a new milestone. Scientists with the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) have declared that this year’s Arctic sea ice extent dipped below the previous record set in 2007 as of yesterday. The record is even more notable, however, as it occurred more than a fortnight before the Arctic’s usual ice melt season ends, meaning the old record will likely not just be supplanted, but shattered.
(08/26/2012) On Friday the head of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, and five other activists occupied an Arctic oil platform owned by Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom to protest exploiting fossil fuel beds in the Arctic ocean. The action by Greenpeace was short-lived after workers began spraying them with cold water from high-powered hoses and then threw pieces of metal at them, according to Naidoo, who communicated via Twitter during the civil disobedience.
(08/22/2012) Sea ice extent in the Arctic is very near to beating the previous record low set in 2007, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. Researchers told Reuters that they expect the record to be beaten by the end of month, well over a week before the melt season ends in the frozen north.
(08/20/2012) The clock is running out for oil giant, Royal Dutch Shell, to drill controversial oil wells in the U.S. Arctic before the harsh winter sets in, reports the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. While the company is still optimistic it can reach the Arctic by summer’s end, it awaits a number of final permits after suffering numerous setbacks, including one of its drilling ships going adrift and nearly running aground in Alaska.