You can blame Earthjustice, our clients, Alaska Native allies, and a little thing called the Gulf oil spill for Shell Oil’s just-announced decision to not drill this summer in offshore Arctic waters.
Work by Alaska Natives, with aid from our advocacy and legal efforts kept Shell from drilling last year in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and stalled Shell’s attempts to obtain a drilling permit for this summer. Now, the company has given up on this year and will focus on drilling in 2012.
This is good news, but it’s no cure for what fundamentally ails the drilling industry.
Shell has a lot of convincing, in court and beyond, if it hopes to drill next year or any year. Shell’s plans have never properly acknowledged drilling’s monumental impacts on creatures like polar bears and bowhead whales – whose continued existence is already in jeopardy. Nor has Shell done the intense, science-based environmental impact survey that addresses a full range of environmental impacts. And then there is the little matter of what drilling could do to human communities that depend on an ecosystem vulnerable to drilling and oil spills.
Shell has built its drilling plans on the premise that there won’t be a spill, and that if there is, it can deal with it. Such assurances, relying more on blithe than science, might have convinced yesterday’s federal regulators, but after the BP’s Gulf oil spill, there’s a new sheriff who isn’t buying the industry’s line.
As the President’s National Oil Commission found, our federal regulatory system has been corrupted by decades of cuddling with oil industry gladhanders. They wielded the rubber stamp that let BP drill in risk-heavy circumstances, using clean-up plans not much better than what you’d find at a 30-minute oil change operation. That system has been radically shaken up in the wake of the Gulf spill, but deep doubts remain.
The deepest doubt is whether oil drilling in ice-choked Arctic waters can ever be made reasonably risk free. Can the industry drill with almost no chance of a major spill? If there is such a spill, can any oil company really clean it up? Until there are convincing answers, we’ll keep expressing our doubts in Congress, in courts, in the Oval Office and to the American public.