Too Close to Risk It

Shell Oil has until the end of October to wrap up drilling operations in the Arctic.

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Shell Oil has until the end of October to wrap up drilling operations in the Arctic.

This week, a great piece of photojournalism illustrates just how close their Kulluk drill rig is to the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Earthjustice fought for years to protect.

The photo below, shot by Gary Braasch, demonstrates that the fragile ecosystem of America’s Arctic waters is not the only treasure that would be devastated by an oil spill:

The drill rig sits some 13 miles off the coast of the refuge, home to varied ecosystems and habitats that support a diversity of fish and wildlife, including large populations of grizzly and polar bear, muskox and caribou, arctic fox and wolves, seals and bowhead whales, and several species of anadromous fish. The coastal lagoons provide extremely valuable nesting, staging, feeding and molting areas for millions of waterfowl, sea and shorebirds.

The fate of the polar bear was argued in court this week. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia heard arguments on whether to uphold the Bush administration decision to list the polar bear as threatened. However, new U.S. Geological Survey data shows that the polar bear may be more threatened than when the original decision was made to list the iconic species.

But back to Shell—after months of delay, the company’s oil spill response and containment barge finally received certification to operate in the Arctic. Plans to drill for oil this summer were forcibly postponed because of delays in getting the vessel and its equipment up to Coast Guard standards. Shell now says it is ready to begin drilling for oil in the summer of 2013.

Earthjustice will continue to represent its clients in challenging flawed and unlawful oil and gas permits that put the Arctic Ocean, its wildlife and its people at risk. Our aim remains to protect America’s Arctic waters from harmful industrial activities in the short term with a long-term focus of conservation based on the best available science.

Kari Birdseye worked at Earthjustice from 2011–2016, as a national press secretary and on advocacy campaigns protecting our health and the environment from the impacts of pesticides and toxic chemicals.

Opened in 1978, our Alaska regional office works to safeguard public lands, waters, and wildlife from destructive oil and gas drilling, mining, and logging, and to protect the region's marine and coastal ecosystems.