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.
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After the summer we have had, my mind is on climate change, what more Earthjustice can do about it, and what’s at stake in this election.
I experienced the effects of climate change this summer during a trip through Colorado. Heat, drought and fire set an almost apocalyptic tone for the trip. There was no snow on the peaks, stream flows were down, and smoke filled the air. Similar impacts afflicted 60 percent of our nation and spread over three continents; sea ice coverage in the Arctic was at a record low.
In April 2010, a national nightmare began with a blowout into the Gulf of Mexico. But the hundreds of millions of gallons of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill were just the beginning of the disaster. We are still learning about the real damage, which is much more insidious than tar balls and slicked beaches.
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.
How much are oil and natural gas worth? I’m not asking how much a barrel of sweet crude is going for these days or what your gas bill from the utility company was last month. The real question isn’t how much fossil fuels cost in terms of dollars, but rather, what is worth sacrificing in their pursuit? Since the physical process of extracting oil and gas tends to severely despoil the surrounding environment, asking how much oil and gas are worth is akin to asking what nature is worth.
(Trip Van Noppen is President of Earthjustice)
More than 130 heads of state, other leaders, and some 50,000 participants from all over the globe are gathering this week in Rio de Janeiro, the most-visited city in the southern hemisphere, for the Rio+20 Earth Summit. I am here with Martin Wagner, head of the Earthjustice International program, and Erika Rosenthal, Earthjustice attorney and veteran of many international environmental negotiations, and we want to share a few glimpses into what is going on as this historic event unfolds.
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.
Australia announces world’s largest marine reserve