Shell suspends Arctic oil drilling for the year
Royal Dutch Shell announced yesterday 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.
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Arctic drilling rig image via Shutterstock.