On Monday, Shell announced that it would no longer drill for oil in the U.S. Arctic Ocean. The company’s exit follows more than a decade of expense, controversy, and risk. Oceana has worked toward this day in court, the halls of the administration, and in the public. The announcement is good for our oceans and our planet.
As we learned after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, offshore oil and gas activities are risky and dangerous. A spill like the one in the Gulf of Mexico would have devastating consequences for the Arctic Ocean.
Even if a catastrophic accident never happened, the oil industry contributes to ocean pollution every day. The "little spills" associated with oil extraction, transportation and consumption, not to mention the noise pollution from seismic activities can cause more damage than you think.
That's why Royal Dutch Shell’s plans to drill for oil in the U.S. Arctic Ocean – home to iconic marine life and picturesque landscapes -- were met with a lot of opposition. There is no proven way to clean up spilled oil in the Arctic Ocean, and environmentalists, communities, politicians, and others voiced strong opposition to the plans.
The U.S. Arctic is a unique and special place for many reasons. In the remote waters off Alaska, polar bears, seals, whales and walrus swim the icy seas. The oceans and other resources are important to communities that have thrived in the region for thousands of years.
Shell's decision to stop its Arctic program comes as a huge win for the Arctic Ocean and furthers efforts to stop drilling in important marine ecosystems like the Arctic. In response to the decision, Oceana's deputy vice president, U.S. Pacific, Susan Murray said, "the future of the Arctic Ocean just got a little bit brighter."
Oceana has been fighting these plans since the beginning. We have gone to court to challenge Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193, and subsequent air permits, exploration plans, and spill response plans.
Oceana also brought the dangers of offshore oil drilling to the forefront of the public’s mind, breaking stories on Shell’s operational blunders in Alaska, like when its drill rig the Kulluk beached on a remote island in 2012 and its icebreaker, the MSV Fennica, punctured its hull on a shallow, rocky shoal causing company delays this season. Additionally, Oceana published the report Frozen Future in 2014 detailing why Arctic Ocean drilling is a bad business decision and could cost billions of dollars in wasted effort and potential risks.
These efforts and Shell’s own lack of preparedness kept the company from completing any wells until this year. Now that it has come up dry, we’re left to wonder what Shell has to show for its massive investment.
The company's Arctic Ocean efforts alone have cost it more than $7 billion. In its statement, Shell said that it had successfully drilled its Burger J exploration well in Alaska's Chukchi Sea to a depth of 6,800 feet, but there were no sufficient indications of oil and gas to warrant further exploration. The well will be sealed in accordance with U.S. regulations, and no activity is in the foreseeable future for the company.
Shell's announcement comes not long after President Barack Obama made his first trip to Alaska to highlight the need to address climate change. Shell's decision to suspend drilling is an opportunity for the President to step back and focus on what's most important.
"As President Obama saw first-hand, there are many challenges in the Arctic region, and we can use this opportunity to address changing climate and the need to protect and conserve important ocean resources," Murray said in a statement. "Shell’s announcement today allows the government to take a step back to apply careful planning, precaution, and science to forge a sustainable future for the Arctic."