UPDATE: In a lawsuit filed today, Earthjustice is representing a coalition of conservation and Alaska Native groups in a lawsuit against President Trump, challenging his unlawful executive order to jettison a permanent ban on new offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.
Last week, more than 88,000 gallons of oil leaked from a ruptured pipeline at one of Shell’s offshore oil fields, creating a 13-mile slick in the Gulf of Mexico that resembled a deep purple bruise. The incident was a painful reminder of the risks of offshore drilling, and it happened during a week that saw a rising tide of progress away from the destructive practice.
The Arctic has long been a bellwether of the consequences of climate change, with melting sea-ice, eroding coastlines and species like polar bears and walruses in peril as their habitat melts and changes. It has also been home to a cynical irony—as climate change melted the ice, oil companies rushed into the newly accessible waters in search of oil that would only worsen climate change and continue to hasten the region’s decline.
But remarkably, in the past six months, the tide appears to be turning:
Last week brought bad news for the Arctic Ocean. On Monday, the Department of the Interior conditionally approved Shell Oil’s multi-year plan to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea. While Shell still needs to clear some hurdles before it can drill, Monday’s approval essentially gives it the green light to sink its wells in search of the next big oil field in one of the worst places on Earth to search for oil—the pristine and fragile Arctic ocean ecosystem.
The drilling could start as early as July of this year.
Twenty-six years ago, an oil tanker on its way to California ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska. More than 11 million gallons of oil spilled from the tanker into the ocean, leaving 1,300 miles of pristine Alaskan coastline under a slick coat of toxic black oil. Today marks the anniversary of that Exxon Valdez disaster, and sticky globs of oil from the spill still pollute the Alaskan shoreline.
Last week, the top Federal prosecutor in Alaska announced that Shell’s primary Arctic offshore oil drilling contractor, Noble Drilling, had pled guilty to committing eight felony offenses in connection with Shell’s botched attempts to drill in the Arctic Ocean in 2012. As its operator pleads guilty for the 2012 drilling mess, Shell is already gearing up to drill again with the same operator and an even bigger and dirtier drilling plan.
The Department of the Interior today announced it is developing a new plan to govern offshore oil and gas drilling from 2017–2022. The agency is asking the public for information about all areas of the outer continental shelf to consider for oil leasing. One thing is clear already—the Department should not include oil leasing in the Arctic Ocean in any new plan.
A court gave the Arctic great news today. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Department of the Interior violated the law when it sold offshore oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska, including the leases on which Royal Dutch Shell wants to drill.