The Beacon

CEO Note: Shell Retreats on Arctic Drilling

Arctic waters off-limits for Shell. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I have some terrific news to report: Shell announced yesterday that it will suspend attempts to drill for oil in the U.S. Arctic Ocean. 

This announcement comes as a huge relief after Shell’s dangerous string of mishaps in the Arctic in the past year. In late December, the company’s drill rig, the Kulluk, broke away from its tow vessel in rough seas, and ran aground on New Year’s Eve off of Kodiak Island in an area that is home to endangered Steller sea lions, threatened southwest sea otters, and salmon. 

Fortunately, the Coast Guard was able to rescue the crew of the Kulluk, and salvage crews were able to pull the vessel off the rocks without significant ecological harm. But the Kulluk incident capped off a year of missteps, and made it clear that Shell is not prepared to drill in the Arctic.

As Oceana’s Mike LeVine points out, “Shell currently faces two disabled vessels, two pending Coast Guard investigations, two notices of violation of the Clean Air Act, and an ongoing ‘assessment’ by the Department of the Interior.  Fundamentally, both the company and the government agencies charged with making decisions about our ocean resources are faced with a crisis of confidence.  The decisions to allow Shell to operate in the Arctic Ocean clearly were premature.” 

This week, the civil trial began in New Orleans against BP and its partners in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. During the opening statements, an attorney for the Justice Department said, "The evidence will show that BP put profits above people, profits before safety and profits before the environment.”

The attorney’s statement could easily describe Shell’s behavior in 2012, except that the company was forced, by its own failures, to stop before real disaster struck. We are extremely lucky to have avoided catastrophe considering the unforgiving conditions in Alaskan waters and the impossibility of cleaning up a spill.

Kudos to Oceana’s team and our allies in Alaska for their persistent campaign work to achieve this victory.

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana


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