Government documents made public today show that Shell and several other oil companies have relinquished nearly all their leases in the Chukchi Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean. The documents, which came as a result of a Freedom of Information Request made by Oceana, reveal that the companies together abandoned more than 350 leases, with Shell retaining just one in the Chukchi, and Spanish company Repsol holding onto 93 leases. Shell also retains leases in the adjoining Beaufort Sea.
Earthjustice has been instrumental in preventing risky and rushed oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Since 2008, the organization has been challenging in court a massive Bush-era lease sale that opened nearly 30 million acres in the Chukchi Sea—previously free of oil and gas leases—to oil drilling. It was pursuant to this lease sale that these companies obtained their leases to drill in the Chukchi Sea. Through court and administrative challenges of unlawfully issued permits and oil leases and advocacy work along with our coalition partners, Earthjustice has consistently advocated for protection of the vulnerable Arctic Ocean.
The following is a statement from Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe:
“It is great news for the Arctic and for the planet that Shell and other oil companies are relinquishing offshore leases in the Chukchi Sea, but the threat of future drilling still remains. Other leases continue, and the Administration is still proposing future lease sales in the Arctic Ocean.
“The fact remains that the Arctic Ocean is no place to drill for oil. Experts agree an oil spill in the Arctic would be catastrophic and could not be contained in these remote, icy, and stormy seas.
“Further, allowing offshore drilling to go forward would take us in the wrong direction on climate change, and would tarnish President Obama’s climate legacy. We need to be transitioning away from fossil fuels, not locking them in into our future.
“The Obama Administration should view this mass exodus of the major players from the Chukchi Sea as an opportunity to protect the Arctic Ocean now and for the future. The Administration should remove the Arctic Ocean from the forthcoming five-year leasing plan, and the President should use his separate authority to protect the Arctic Ocean permanently from future oil drilling.”
Maggie Caldwell, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2084