Update: Shell's fleet stumbles, intensifying concerns
Offshore oil drilling in the Arctic is a risky and reckless gamble. The weather is violent, the seas are ice-covered much of the year, and it's dark for months at a time.
And yet, drilling rigs are moving into position in America's Arctic, endangering millions of birds, precious habitat, and a way of life for thousands of people.
This year, Audubon is working like never before to stop efforts by Shell to drill in the seabed off Alaska's Arctic coast.
Under the Department of the Interior's safety rules regulating offshore drilling, Shell should never have received permission to begin operations in the Arctic. Last month, Audubon filed suit in federal court to compel the U.S. government to prevent offshore Arctic drilling until safety measures are in place.
Several government agencies and spokespeople have expressed concern whether a cleanup could succeed following a worst-case scenario disaster. Even Shell says most spilled oil would only be "encountered," not cleaned up!
At stake are endangered bowhead whales, polar bears, and millions of birds that migrate every summer from seven continents to nest and fledge their young.
Recent news reports from the region only intensify our concerns about Shell's competency:
- Shell's primary drillship, the massive Noble Discoverer, broke free from its anchor on July 14, drifting very close to shore in the Aleutian port of Dutch Harbor.
- The barge that Shell intends to use as its primary spill response ship has been held at dock in Seattle, yet to be certified by the U.S. Coast Guard.
- Even with its drilling armada halfway to the Arctic Ocean, Shell revealed that it could not meet the air pollution limits to which the company had previously agreed. Shell requested permission to triple one pollution limit and do away with another altogether.
Shell's missteps confirm what we have believed from the start — that drilling companies are not ready for the daunting challenges they face in the Arctic. Audubon had to take action, and we were joined by nine other prominent organizations in making the lawsuit a top priority.
America has reserves that can be more safely tapped. Mixing oil and ice is no answer. Some places are just too precious to take this potentially irreversible risk.