What’s Shell Doing in the Arctic?

The Arctic is believed to have 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13% of its oil. That makes it every oil company’s dream to drill into.

On July 22, the US Department of the Interior issued permits allowing Shell to begin preliminary drilling in the Chukchi Sea, 140 miles from Alaska’s shoreline. Currently, Shell is only allowed to drill to 1300 feet (400 meters). They will need to request permission for deeper drilling, but only when the ship with a capping stick is repaired. The capping stick is a safety device for preventing oil spills, but the Fennica, the only ship with this, is undergoing repairs for a 3-foot gash. Shell is also only allowed to drill in summer months; they are required to stop in late September.

Shell is taking certain safety precautions. They are working to reduce vibrations and noises from drilling so as not to disturb marine mammals sensitive to sound, and they aren’t drilling in deep, high-pressure areas. Other safety precautions have been enforced by the government. For example, Shell can’t drill anywhere within a four mile radius of a walrus, nor can they drill in 2 simultaneous locations less than 15 miles apart (to avoid impacting migration and foraging of marine life).

But will this be enough? The Arctic conditions make cleaning up an oil spill virtually impossible. Petroleum sticks to ice, and the Arctic Gyre would be able to pull ice, and the oil, all the way to Russia, Canada, and Norway. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has estimated that there is a 75% chance of a large spill if extensive drilling takes place in the Arctic.

The Arctic is home to vulnerable animals such as the walrus, polar bear, and whale. If there is an oil spill, what will happen to the endangered animals? The Chukchi Sea is home to half of the United States polar bears. Will they be able to survive?

Even if Shell is safer this time, they do not have a good track history. Shell was drilling in the Arctic in 2012, and 150,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled along the coastline of one of Alaska’s islands. And the Chukchi Sea is 1000 miles from a Coast Guard station with equipment for responding to oil spills.

Why are we focusing on oil? Oil companies are currently engaging in increasingly risky behaviors. Fracking has been destroying clean water supplies and may be increasing the risk of earthquakes. Now the Arctic Drilling poses as a danger. The only reason Arctic oil is so accessible is that so much of the ice has melted from global warming.


What can you do? Sign Greenpeace’s petition to stop the drilling. Also, avoid all Shell gas stations; it won’t stop the drilling, but at least it will hurt the company. We should be standing for green energy to protect our seas and wildlife.


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