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.
(01/02/2013) On Monday night, an oil drilling rig owned by Dutch Royal Shell ran aground on Sitkalidak Island in southern Alaska, prompting fears of an oil spill. As of yesterday no oil was seen leaking from the rig according to the Coast Guard, but efforts to secure the rig have floundered due to extreme weather. The rig, dubbed Kulluk, contains over 140,000 gallons of diesel fuel.
(11/28/2012) Arctic snowfall accumulation plays a critical role in ringed seal breeding, but may be at risk due to climate change, according to a new study in Geophysical Research Letters. Sea ice, which is disappearing at an alarming rate, provides a crucial platform for the deep snow seals need to reproduce. Ringed seals (Phoca hispida) require snow depths of at least 20 centimeters (8 inches): deep enough to form drifts that seals use as birth chambers.
(10/29/2012) Twelve miles off shore from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge floats a seemingly tiny man-made device—at least from an airplane—but it’s actually a 160-foot high Shell Dutch Royal oil drilling rig. While the hugely controversial plan to drill for oil in the Arctic ocean was postponed this year due to a variety of mishaps and delays, the Shell rig is expected to be in the area until the end of month drilling top holes in the ocean floor to prep oil drilling next year.
(09/18/2012) 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.
(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.