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Say No to Shell’s Arctic Drilling Plans

Posted On July 30, 2012 by

A young Steller’s eider, one of the rarest birds in Alaska. Credit: Heidi Cline, Alaska Fish and Wildlife Service

It’s been two years since the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy – the worst oil spill disaster in U.S. history. Think back to the awful images of that spill: oil billowing into the ocean from BP’s Macondo well, people frantically setting up boom to protect the vulnerable coast, and skimmers trying to scoop up some fraction of the oil that was spreading over the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

Now try to imagine responding to a similar spill in the Arctic Ocean. There would be no major ports from which to stage responders and vessels. There would be no roads to move equipment along the coast. Responders might have to cope with sea ice that would clog skimmers and wreak havoc on boom. And they might have to call off cleanup efforts because of the Arctic’s notoriously challenging conditions – conditions that can include extreme cold, thick fog, prolonged darkness and hurricane-force winds.

Timing is everything: Shell looks to begin drilling in the Arctic Chukchi Sea in a matter of weeks. Please take a minute to sign our petition and help us stop it.

Spectacled Eider. Credit: Laura L. Whitehouse, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The potential for disaster should be obvious, even to Shell: Since 2000, there have been no tests of skimming and booming in U.S. Arctic waters. And the tests that were conducted 12 years ago were considered a “failure.”  No evidence exists that Shell is capable of effectively cleaning up an oil spill in the Arctic. So why are we turning a blind eye to this and allowing them to drill anyway?

What’s more, Shell’s recent record of missteps is very troubling:

Not long ago, Shell lost control of its drill ship, which almost ran aground near Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Winds reaching 35 mph pushed the vessel dangerously close to the shore – and some locals insist it did, in fact, hit the beach. When reporters started questioning Shell’s claim that it would be able recover 95 percent of spilled oil after a worst-case discharge in the Arctic, Shell backpedaled. The oil company insisted it only claimed it would “encounter” spilled oil – not “recover” it. Shell is also having trouble getting Coast Guard certification for one of its oil spill response vessels, and the company has admitted it won’t be able to satisfy the air quality standards established in its Clean Air Act permit.

The Obama Administration appears to be taking notice and still has an opportunity to deny the final permits that Shell needs before it can begin drilling. Less than one month ago, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said it was “highly likely” he would grant the permits and that “the response capability is there.” But more recently, his tone changed: Salazar noted he has “not yet given the final permits to Shell.” And he clarified that “we don’t know if [drilling] will occur, and if it does occur, it will be done under the most watched program in the history of the United States.”

We’re glad Secretary Salazar is considering denying the permits – that would be the right thing to do. But he’s wrong in thinking that “watching” the program could be enough. As BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster painfully taught us, we must plan for the worst. In the Arctic, that means we must be ready for a major oil spill and have confidence we can effectively recover the oil and protect this fragile ecosystem. Shell has not met that standard.

This is the moment when we need to show our force in numbers – to demonstrate to Secretary Salazar, President Obama, Shell Oil and the world that we will not sit idly by while this potential disaster is on the verge of becoming a reality. Raise your hand, sign our petition and stand with us against Shell’s dangerous project in the Arctic.