In January, conservationists celebrated when Royal Dutch Shell announced it was abandoning plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean in the summer of 2014. Best of all, the company’s new CEO said the decision may become permanent.
This was a major victory for those who have fought efforts to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean off the northern coast of Alaska, but it's important to keep in mind that the government is still planning more lease sales for the Arctic Ocean.
Shell's decision to hold off on summer drilling plans, was financially motivated. Shell has spent more than $5 billion over the past six years in an attempt to tap oil reserves in the Chukchi an Beaufort seas, but the company’s new CEO, Ben van Beurden, faced with a dramatic drop in fourth-quarter profits in late 2013, was looking for ways to cut costs.
Walruses feed on mollusks at the bottom of the ocean and could be devastated by a major oil spill in Arctic Waters. Photo credit: FWS, Joel Garlich Miller
“This is a huge victory that we all should celebrate,” - Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska regional director.
“The decision by Shell's new CEO to suspend Arctic Ocean drilling in 2014 was both sensible and inevitable,” said Lois Epstein, a licensed engineer and Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society. “The Arctic Ocean has proven to be logistically challenging for drilling and mobilization, and a bottomless pit for investment.”
Offshore drilling in the Arctic would pose a severe threat to species such as polar bears, fish, walruses and bowhead whales, as well as the Alaska Native communities that depend on the Arctic Ocean as a source of food. The industry lacks the technology to recover meaningful amounts of spilled oil from cold, remote and stormy seas, and a late-season well blowout would bring the added risk of spewing oil for months under the Arctic ice cap.
Map: Drilling spots in the Arctic Seas are so remote that reaction times to oil spills could be very long.
“The Wilderness Society and our partners have fought drilling efforts for many years, and our members and supporters have stood behind us and helped pressure the federal government to protect this unique and remote part of the world,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska regional director for The Wilderness Society.
“This is a huge victory that we all should celebrate,” Whittington-Evans said. “It means that species such as bowhead whales and polar bears will be safer, as will Alaska Native communities that rely on the ocean for food and cultural traditions that they have practiced in the region for thousands of years.”
Explore an interactive timeline of Shell's drilling mishaps in the Arctic Ocean: