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Arctic

Arctic Refuge

Anyone who has ever stood in awe of a beautiful place, anyone who has ever felt humbled by the magnificence of nature, anyone who has ever been moved by the sight of an animal in the wild, and anyone who has ever wanted to save something precious -- anything precious -- should celebrate today. This is because yesterday, aboard Air Force One, the President announced a proposal to designate more than 12 million acres of the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness.

The UN climate talks in Lima, Peru.

After a long slog in overtime, the gavel came down at the UN climate talks in Lima in the wee hours last Sunday. Reviews are wildly mixed, with some heralding a major step toward a new global regime and others despairing that governments, beholden to fossil fuel interests, are committing us to a calamitous future. 

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. 

The village of Igiugig (population: less than 70).

I was lucky enough to travel to Alaska last summer for a meeting of all the terrific groups who work together protecting America’s Arctic waters from destruction related to offshore drilling. I was even luckier to meet the fine folks of Igiugig, a remote community of less than 70 people who are transitioning away from diesel fuel to renewable energy sources.

Pressure cleaning rocks on intertidal zone in Alaska's Prince William Sound area.

Tragedy struck Prince William Sound in Alaska 25 years ago today when the Exxon Valdez ran aground, rupturing its hull and pouring nearly 11 million gallons of oil into the sound’s pristine waters.

The effects of that oil spill haunt the remote region to this day. Oil remains trapped between and under the boulders on beaches in the Gulf of Alaska. And thousands of gallons of Exxon Valdez oil lurk in beach sediments—still toxic and harmful to marine life.

Shell Oil told investors this week that—after an embarrassing set of failures last year—it plans to go back into the icy Arctic waters in 2014. The announcement comes as a surprise given that CEOs of other Big Oil companies have been urging caution for month about returning to the area. And in fact, Shell has abandoned efforts to drill in the Beaufort Sea next summer.

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