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Alaska

U.S. Coast Guard divers are now on the way to Dutch Harbor, Alaska to inspect the 571-foot drill rig Noble Discoverer, which is scheduled to drill three exploratory wells in the American Arctic waters of the Chukchi Sea as early as August. The locals say it ran aground in the harbor in broad daylight on Saturday and took pictures to prove it. Shell Oil Co. says otherwise; it “lost its moorings and came close to the coast.” We’ll have to wait and see what the Coast Guard has to say about reasons for the mistake.

(Trip Van Noppen is President of Earthjustice)

Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling plans are premised on a growing legacy of broken promises regarding the company’s ability to protect the fragile Arctic from drilling impacts. And, as in the past, Shell is again asking the federal government to be lenient, accept more empty promises, and let the drilling begin.

As I write this, ships are being prepared to steam northward from several ports to begin poking holes in the floor of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in search of oil.

Thanks to legal action by Earthjustice over the last few years, and thanks also to a one-year time-out called in the wake of the catastrophic blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the drilling has been forestalled, but it could finally begin this July. Legal challenges are still pending, but the odds seem long against them.

That said, this is closer to the beginning of this struggle than to its end.

On a muggy Tuesday morning, two polar bears lumbered south on 17th Street in Washington D.C. A walrus waved at drivers honking their horns. A sandpiper flapped its wings as it passed food trucks and coffee shops. And, 40 representatives from more than a dozen environmental groups wore bright blue shirts emblazoned with the logo “SAVE THE ARCTIC.”

On backing down, backing away, and backing into a corner . . .

President Obama’s statement, “I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago,” was one the more awkward sentences in his State of the Union speech, and not just syntactically.

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