Guest post by Emilie Surrusco, Alaska Wilderness League
Right now, Shell’s drill ships are on their way to the pristine Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska. And despite all the glossy advertising, promotional videos, and slick promises from Shell, the oil giant is proceeding with its plans to drill 10 exploratory wells – with no proven way to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic’s extreme conditions. Amazingly enough, the US government, with President Barack Obama at the helm, is allowing this to happen, despite warnings from governmental and nongovernmental entities alike. Which is why we are mounting an aggressive campaign to stop this disaster before it starts. President Obama still has to issue Shell its final drilling permits, so there is still time to turn those ships around.
We need your help! President Obama needs to hear from across the globe that his decisions affect all of us. The Arctic is already suffering from the impacts of climate change, with sea ice melting at a rapid pace. Home to myriad beloved wildlife species, from polar bears and ice seals to walrus and bowhead and beluga whales, the Arctic region acts as our planet’s air conditioner. If Shell is allowed to drill there this summer without a viable plan to clean up an oil spill, and without the infrastructure necessary to mount an adequate response, the consequences could impact all of us. Please sign our petition here – we will deliver your comments to the White House on May 15.If Shell is allowed to move forward with its plans, the Inupiat people who have thrived off the bounty of Arctic waters for thousands of years could see the loss of their livelihood and their culture. Caroline Cannon, an Inupiat leader and outspoken advocate for the people of America’s Arctic coast, was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize last week in acknowledgement of her ongoing efforts to stop Shell from drilling in the Arctic.
“Right now as I speak, my Inupiat people up in Point Hope are out hunting for whales. And Shell’s drilling ships are on their way to launch the most aggressive drilling plans ever in the Arctic Ocean,” Caroline said in her acceptance speech. “When I met President Obama a couple of years ago, he told me he knew what it was like to be treated as a second-class citizen. He made a promise to work with the Inupiat people and protect our way of life. That gave me hope. Now is the time to hold him to that promise. I need everyone here today to remind him what’s at stake. I need you to stand with me to honor my father’s wishes as he stood on the ice for the last time. I need you to stand with me to remind him that we all have a responsibility to protect America’s Arctic.”
Increasingly, word is getting out that Arctic offshore drilling is a catastrophe waiting to happen. Last week, WestLB, a large German bank, announced that it would not provide financing to any offshore oil or gas drilling in the Arctic region. The company’s sustainability manager said the “risks and costs are simply too high.”
And earlier this month, UK’s Lloyds of London issued a warning that offshore drilling in the Arctic would “constitute a unique and hard-to-manage risk” and urged companies to “think carefully about the consequences of action.” Their report went on to say that “environmental consequences of disasters in the Arctic have the potential to be worse than in other regions. The resilience of the Arctic’s ecosystems in terms of withstanding risk events is weak, and political sensitivity to a disaster is high. As a result, companies operating in the Arctic face significant reputational risk.”
If the company that sets the gold standard for risk assessment is warning investors that a spill in the Arctic would constitute “a unique and hard to manage risk,” then you would think that President Obama would think twice before giving Shell the green light in the Arctic. Particularly in light of Shell’s grievous track record in Nigeria and elsewhere – the company’s 2011 Sustainability Report recently revealed that it was responsible for 208 spills worldwide, a number that has risen for the first time in almost a decade.
This past week was the second anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 people and caused 205.8 million gallons of oil to spill into another one of our planet’s most abundant marine ecosystems. As we remember that disaster, join us in telling President Obama that when he jeopardizes the future of the Arctic – he is playing with the future of our planet.