Royal Dutch Shell announced today that it was setting “pause” on its exploratory drilling activities in the Arctic for 2013. Shell’s operations are currently under review by the federal government after the oil company suffered numerous setbacks during last year’s opening attempt to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, including running its drilling rig aground on Sitkalidak Island in southern Alaska in late December.
“We’ve made progress in Alaska, but this is a long-term program that we are pursuing in a safe and measured way,” said the director of Shell’s Upstream Americas, Marvin Odum. “Our decision to pause in 2013 will give us time to ensure the readiness of all our equipment and people following the drilling season in 2012.” In all, Shell has spent $4.5 billion on drilling in the Arctic.
But environmentalists see Shell’s decision as further vindication that drilling in the Arctic was a bad idea to begin with, and that Shell—despite assurances—was in no way prepared for Arctic conditions.
“This is the first thing Shell’s done right in Alaska—calling it quits,” Phil Radford, Greenpeace USA Executive Director, said. “Shell was supposed to be the best of the best, but the long list of mishaps and near-disasters is a clear indication even the ‘best’ companies can’t succeed in Arctic drilling. Secretary Salazar and President Obama gave drilling a chance; now the responsible decision is to make Arctic drilling off limits, forever.”
Environmental groups have long been critical of the Obama Administration for giving Shell the go-ahead in the first place.
“With no infrastructure or ability to clean up an oil spill in ice and Shell’s continual laundry lists of mishaps and failures, it is a no brainer to suspend drilling in the Arctic,” said Cindy Shogan, Executive Director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “If President Obama truly wants to address his climate change legacy, saying no to Arctic Ocean drilling would be a huge first step.”
The Arctic is undergoing vast ecological changes, as global warming from fossil fuels heats up the region about twice as much as the rest of the world. Seasonal arctic sea ice is shrinking—with a new record set last year for ice extent—while wildlife and local people attempt to adapt to rapid changes.
Arctic sea ice volume plunges over a third in less than 10 years
(02/18/2013) Few places are changing as rapidly as the Arctic due to global warming. Last year, scientists were stunned when the Arctic’s seasonal ice extent fell to record low that was 18 percent below the previous one set in 2007. But new research in Geophysical Research Letters finds that the volume of ice is melting away just as quickly: satellite and ocean-based measurement have found that Arctic sea ice has fallen by 36 percent in Autumn since 2003. In winter, the ice volume has dropped 9 percent.
NGOs call on Obama Administration to suspend Arctic oil drilling after series of blunders
(01/10/2013) 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.
(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.
Reduction in snow threatens Arctic seals
(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.
Picture of the day: Shell drilling rig within view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
(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.