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Erik Grafe's blog

An icebreaker ship in an icy Arctic bay.

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:

Kayaktivists rally against Shell Oil and Arctic drilling in the Port of Seattle.

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.

Exxon valdez oil spill cleanup

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.

The Kulluk, one of Shell's oil drilling rigs  for the Arctic.

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.

Chukchi Sea. (NASA / Kathryn Hansen)

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. 

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