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With one Arctic drill rig shipwrecked on an Alaskan island and the other reportedly under criminal investigation for possibly “operating with serious safety and pollution control problems,” oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is doing a pretty thorough job at proving the quest for oil in the pristine waters of America’s Arctic is just too dangerous, too dirty, and too damaging. The week’s events also prove once again that the U.S. Department of Interior should not have approved drilling in the most remote, dangerous place on the planet.

Blog posts about Earth's magnificent places and creatures were the most popular themes for unEarthed readers in 2012. By far the most-read post concerned Arctic drilling, followed by reports of bison being restored and wolves losing protection. Not shown in our top 10 blog posts, below, are the delightful tales of curious critters painted in words by our own Shirley Hao. Posts written years ago by Shirley are still being discovered and read by thousands of people every year.

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.

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.