In granting Shell Oil permission to start drilling for oil off the coast of Alaska, President Obama has exposed pristine Arctic waters to the risk of a devastating oil disaster while opening the door to yet another source of the carbon pollution that's driving climate change. This means Shell's drilling rigs are only days away from sinking their drill bits into the ocean floor, commencing the exploratory drilling that they have spent decades and billions pursing.
There's still time, though, to stop this double-barreled assault on our future. For now, Shell only has permission to begin the drilling process. To fulfill its goal for this season, Shell must repair its damaged icebreaker--the Fennica--and then needs further approval to drill deep enough to get to potential oil. The Obama administration should deny that permission and choose our children's health and the integrity of our last pristine ocean over Big Oil.
It's a choice millions of people are hoping he makes now, one which would help secure his legacy as a global leader on the climate and environment. It's also a choice President Obama has every reason to make.
Approving Shell's drilling ignores authoritative science. The science shows that the exploitation of Arctic oil and gas reserves are incompatible with the need to stay below 2Â°C average global warming. Climate change is the central environmental challenge of our time, and the public knows it. Unfettered carbon pollution will increase the frequency and severity of droughts, heat waves, and extreme storms. It will drive half of our known species into extinction. It will raise sea levels and make low-lying coastal regions completely uninhabitable, if not submerge them entirely. Finally, it will increase the risk of childhood asthma attacks and other respiratory health problems. Extracting and burning Arctic oil makes this threat worse, not better.
Allowing Shell to drill also ignores the administration's own determination that there is a 75-percent chance of a significant oil spill if Chukchi leases are fully developed. Shell's track record of failures, coupled with the uniquely challenging Arctic environment, only underscores the likelihood and harm of such a spill. When the company attempted to begin exploratory drilling in 2012, it instead ran its drilling rig aground, failed to monitor the movement of a 30-mile iceberg into the drilling site, and was cited for more than 20 Clean Air Act violations, among other mishaps. This year, Shell managed to run a mandatory, leased icebreaker over a shoal in a well-trafficked harbor, forcing it to return to port for repairs. Multiple oil spills across North America, just this month, show how systemically risky it is to extract, transport, and produce oil.
The problem does not end here. If the President does not reverse course, the public will use every tool in the tool box to press for change. We won't stop until the Arctic and our climate are protected from ill-considered drilling by Shell or any other oil company.
The fact is, Shell may be set to use its short weather window for exploration this summer to advance its goal of bringing oil to market. But Big Oil faces a long haul before that happens - and momentum is building to ensure that doesn't come to pass.
The writing is on the wall for Big Oil--its time has come. That's why Members of Congress are also stepping up with legislation to protect the Arctic and our climate.
People everywhere are standing up to call for a stop to fossil fuel development on our publicly owned lands altogether. President Obama's decision yesterday to allow Shell to drill in the Arctic Ocean is out of step with the people, the science, and the force of history.
For all these reasons, President Obama should take this opportunity to join in saying "Shell no!"