Shell should commemorate the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill by canceling Arctic Ocean drilling plans

Mar 24, 2014

Workers attempt to remove oil from a beach on Prince William Sound after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

Wikipedia Commons
On this 25th anniversary of the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, The Wilderness Society called on Shell to cancel its Arctic Ocean drilling plans and operations.

“Since 1989, oil spill cleanup techniques that never were very good have progressed negligibly,” said The Wilderness Society’s engineer and arctic program director, Lois Epstein.  “Additionally, Shell’s problem-filled drilling and mobilization performance in the Arctic Ocean in 2012 - which culminated in the grounding of the Kulluk drill rig - and the ecological sensitivity and cultural importance of the Arctic Ocean, should sway Shell’s leadership to change course.

”For those focused on economics, Arctic oil production always will be among the riskiest and most costly oil production in the world,” Epstein added.

The Exxon Valdez spilled roughly 11 million gallons of oil, killing thousands of animals in one of the most beautiful marine environments in the world. The BP Deepwater Horizon blowout in 2010 killed 11 workers and poured more than 200 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico, greatly harming commercial fisheries and beaches and showing that the oil industry still has the potential for massive environmental and human damages. 

“While regulations can prevent some incidents, they are unable to ensure that the oil industry will not harm ecosystems and the people who rely on them,” Epstein said.  “Given the power of the oil industry in limiting natural resource damage liability to only $75 million, and lax regulations that are not strictly enforced, the only way to truly protect sensitive areas like the Arctic Ocean is not to pursue oil and gas production in those locations.”

Shell acquired its oil and gas leases in the Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi Sea in 2008 and in the Beaufort Sea in 2005 and 2007.  To date, Shell has been unable to successfully complete a single exploratory well, in good part because of its many operational problems in 2012.  ConocoPhillips and Statoil also have leases in the Arctic Ocean but have not yet begun drilling.

This past week has seen significant oil spills from a pipeline in North Dakota and a ship collision in the Houston Ship Channel in Texas.