The Obama administration has given conditional approval to Shell to start drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic this summer, dealing a major blow to environmentalists who have sought to protect the vulnerable Beaufort and Chuchki Seas from fossil fuel exploration.
“Arctic drilling is climate denial, plain and simple,” Jamie Henn, co-founder of climate activist organization 350.org, tweeted after the announcement. “Shameful decision by [President Barack Obama] to allow Shell to drill.”
Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said in a statement on Monday, “As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards.”
“Arctic drilling is a step in the exact wrong direction. Scientists tell us that if we want to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we need to keep Arctic oil in the ground. Arctic drilling gives us a 75 percent chance of an oil spill and a 100 percent chance of climate catastrophe. Interior should send Shell packing.”
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However, environmental activists have long warned that there is no way to fully protect against the dangers of offshore drilling, particularly in areas that are hard to reach by emergency vessels. Not only does fossil fuel exploration harm endangered species which rely on the Arctic’s pristine ecosystems to survive, but an accident in those remote waters could be more devastating than the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill which killed 11 workers and poured millions of barrels of oil into the Atlantic Ocean, activists say.
Furthermore, green groups point out that the only way to avoid climate catastrophe is to leave untapped reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas unexploited.
Calling Shell’s drilling scheme “the largest, loudest and dirtiest exploration plan ever proposed in the American Arctic Ocean,” Friends of the Earth said the Interior Department’s approval “is unconscionable given that the latest science says Arctic oil must be kept in the ground in order to have a chance at keeping the planet safe.”
The White House first granted drilling approval to Shell in the summer of 2012, but that project was derailed by numerous safety and operational problems. According to the New York Times, the Interior Department’s new approval (pdf) of the plan “was conditional on Shell’s receiving approval of a series of remaining drilling permits for the project.”
That was of little comfort to environmental groups which say that the oil giant has not demonstrated it can drill safely in the ecologically delicate region.
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