Ominous signs abound in the Arctic as climate change bears down. Dwindling sea ice makes it harder for polar bears to search for food and shelter, for example, but easier for Royal Dutch Shell and other petroleum giants to search for oil. Shell’s plans to explore and drill for oil in sensitive Arctic waters is in and of itself a significant threat to imperiled wildlife, including the endangered bowhead whale—a culturally and ecologically critical species to the local Inupiat.
Those plans also threaten to poison Arctic waters and the wildlife within with a catastrophic oil spill, an event that no oil company is able to clean up. The industry demonstrated its incompetence in the Gulf, where conditions are warm and calm. Cleaning up a similar disaster in the Arctic—where conditions are icy and dark and where the waves crest at 20 feet—is inconceivable.
Shell’s shoreline protection strategies in the event of an oil spill are based on the assumption that the company will clean up more than 90 percent of any spilled oil. Even in relatively favorable environmental conditions, less than 10 percent of spilled oil was recovered after the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez spills.
Earthjustice is stopping oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean by:
- Challenging the federal government’s approval of Shell’s woefully inadequate oil spill response plans. The challenge focuses on Shell’s spill plans for the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, but ultimately addresses requirements that apply nationwide.
- Challenging specific lease sales in the Chukchi Sea. In February 2008, despite huge gaps in basic scientific information about the region, a lack of an adequate spill cleanup plan, and warnings from government scientists, the Bush Interior Department offered 30 million acres of this sensitive Arctic ecosystem for oil and gas leasing, an important first step in committing an area to oil and gas development.
- Fighting for enforceable regulations that govern the use of chemical oil dispersants—widely and recklessly used after the BP oil spill in the Gulf. Shell’s Arctic oil spill response plans include the use of chemical dispersants.