The Beacon

Goverment Admits Shell Wasn't Ready for Arctic Drilling

Wind, waves, fog and unpredictable ice floes pose dangers to drillers in the Arctic. Photo: NOAA

After a 60-day review of what could charitably be described as a disastrous Arctic drilling season, the Department of the Interior has released a critical assessment of Shell's offshore activities in the far north. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Tommy Beaudreau acknowledged that the company was unprepared for work in such an unforgiving environment:

“Shell simply did not maintain strong, direct oversight of some of its key contractors. Working in the Arctic requires thorough advance planning and preparation, rigorous management focus, a close watch over contractors, and reliance on experienced, specialized operators who are familiar with the uniquely challenging conditions of the Alaskan offshore. In some areas Shell performed well, but in other areas they did not, and Alaska’s harsh environment was unforgiving.”

Oceana Deputy Vice President, Pacific, Susan Murray responded to the DOI's review. While echoing the criticism of Shell, she argued that the government must reassess its own role in allowing such an unprepared organization flirt with environmental catastrophe:

“By and large, the review told us two things we already knew—companies are woefully unprepared for the remote and unforgiving Alaskan waters, and our government improperly awarded Shell approvals to operate there. The Arctic Ocean is unique and important. Americans deserve better care and stewardship than oil companies or the government have provided.

Shell’s lack of respect and lack of attention to detail repeatedly put lives and our oceans at risk; and the company has violated the most basic protections for clean air and clean water. Holding Shell accountable is necessary, but it is not sufficient.

The Department of the Interior must accept responsibility for the failures that resulted in approvals and permits being granted to a company that was obviously not ready. It is disappointing to see the agency now congratulate itself for coordination and strict standards, rather than take the necessary hard look at how and why it made such remarkable mistakes last year.

The review was just a first step, and the government must now reassess its standards, oversight, and commitment to allowing companies to explore for oil in the Arctic Ocean. Shell’s admission that it cannot drill this summer provides an opportunity for the Department of the Interior to formally revisit regulations and make extensive changes. With stakes this high, there is no longer any excuse for continuing business as usual. The government should suspend activities on leases in the Arctic Ocean until and unless companies prove they can operate safely and without harm to the environment and without harm to opportunities for the subsistence way of life.

Learn more about what's at stake in the Arctic.

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