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Major Oil Company Opposes Arctic Drilling

The “Big Oil” companies are breaking ranks. The fourth largest oil company in the world told the Financial Times yesterday that drilling in the Arctic is too risky, a position held by the environmental community for the past seven years.

Total SA CEO Christophe de Margerie, said, “Oil on Greenland would be a disaster … A leak would do too much damage to the image of the company.” This is the man who runs one of the world's largest integrated oil companies, with operations in 130 countries. According to Hoover’s, Total “explores for, develops, and produces crude oil and natural gas; refines and markets oil; and trades and transports both crude and finished products.”

The outspoken Big Oil CEO isn’t the only leader expressing concern.

Earlier this week, the British Parliamentary Committee called for a halt to Arctic drilling. The Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee issued this statement:

The oil companies should come clean and admit that dealing with an oil spill in the icy extremes of the Arctic would be exceptionally difficult. The infrastructure to mount a big clean-up operation is simply not in place and conventional oil spill response techniques have not been proven to work in such severe conditions. Drilling is only currently feasible in the Arctic during a short summer window when it is relatively ice-free.

We heard compelling evidence that if a blow-out occurred just before the dark Arctic winter returned it may not be possible to cap it until the following summer - potentially leaving oil spewing out under the ice for six months or more with devastating consequences for wildlife.

Despite the growing recognitions about the risks of Arctic drilling, Shell is standing by its commitment to explore and drill for oil in the pristine waters of America’s Arctic. Even though Shell called off efforts to drill into oil depths in the Arctic Ocean this year, the company is currently preparing for drilling next year by “top drilling” or inserting preparatory casings up to 1,500 feet into the floor of the Chukchi Sea. They also have the go ahead to do the same in the Beaufort Sea, despite the lack of the once-required oil spill response and containment equipment on the Arctic Challenger, still a work in progress in Bellingham, Washington. Operations in the Beaufort are delayed until the bowhead whaling season ends for the community of Kaktovik.

The Arctic Marine Mammal Program at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game tracks the whereabouts of protected mammal species as shown below.

Earthjustice submitted comments on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups last week objecting to the harassment of marine mammals during seismic survey activities in search of oil planned by another company, ION Geophysical, in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. These surveys use underwater cannons to blast sonic booms that could seriously injure seals, beluga whales and the endangered bowhead whale, as well as other marine mammals in the area. The large-scale project would begin next month and last into December and would have to contend with returning sea ice and darkness, further putting marine mammals at risk.

Just another reason why the Total SA CEO and the British Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee could represent the tip of the iceberg of those in power speaking out against risky drilling in the Arctic. Earthjustice will continue to represent its clients in challenging flawed and unlawful oil and gas permits that put the Arctic Ocean, its wildlife and its people at risk. Our aim remains to protect the pristine American Arctic waters from harmful industrial activities in the short term with a long-term focus of conservation based on the best available science.
 

Tags:  Arctic, oceans, oil

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.