Guest Blog Post by Catherine Schmidt: Reasons Why I said "Shell No!" and You Should Too

25 protesters meet at Hyalite Reservoir in Bozeman, MT on July 18 to say "Shell No!" to Arctic oil drilling.
Credit: Photo: Catherine Schmidt

The following blog was written by Catherine Schmidt, NRDC's Northern Rockies Ann Clark Environmental Fellow.

On Saturday, July 18, 2,500 miles southeast of the location where Royal Dutch Shell ("Shell") wants to drill for Arctic Ocean oil, 25 protesters waded knee-deep into the Hyalite Reservoir near Bozeman, Montana, brandishing signs that read, "Stop Shell!", "Save the Arctic, Save the Climate," and "Shell No." While half of the group remained in the water, the rest paddled out in drift boats, kayaks, and canoes. All were there for one purpose: to join the national movement erupting in political centers across 17 cities in the U.S.--including Washington, D.C., New York, and Chicago--to oppose Shell's plans to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea.

The Bozeman protest, occurring in a chilly lake surrounded by pine tree-covered mountains, resembled the conditions one might find on a summer day in Alaska. It dawned on me, a recent transplant to Bozeman and organizer of the protest, that perhaps it was the sense of familiarity with pristine wilderness that attracted Montanans to protest oil drilling in Alaska on Saturday.

One argument against Arctic offshore drilling is that oil extraction and production threatens the vast biodiversity that calls this region home. Polar bears, Pacific walruses, ringed seals, bowhead whales, loons, and puffins are just a few of the iconic species that inhabit the Chukchi Sea. Offshore development will affect their ability to communicate, travel, and forage--and could even cause serious injury or death. And a major oil spill in their midst would be devastating--for wildlife and local communities alike.


Pacific Walruses are just one of the species that could suffer from an Arctic Ocean oil spill.
Credit: Photo by USGS on Flickr

A fact that has been widely circulated regarding Arctic Ocean drilling is the 75% likelihood of a spill of 1,000 gallons or more. And considering Shell's poor reputation with Arctic excavation, there is no reason to believe this probability will decrease. As many scholars have pointed out, clean-up in the Gulf of Mexico was difficult; the calamitous weather of the Arctic would make clean-up there a futile feat. And as many conservationists have observed, the fragile ecosystem is defenseless to this foreign attack.

Though animal rights and wildlife conservation are high priorities of mine, it was the climate implications of producing and burning oil that initially fueled my anti-Shell, anti-drilling drive. Several years ago, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math" penetrated my young layers of environmentalism, and the numbers 2°C, 565 Gigatons, and 2,795 Gigatons have meant something very different since. The Chukchi Sea contains approximately 12 billion barrels of oil, a quantity that, if burned, would push the atmosphere closer to the 565 Gigatons of carbon dioxide it can sustain before climatic catastrophe.

The economic drawbacks provide yet another reason to object to offshore drilling in the Arctic. Shell has already invested $7 billion into this project and expects to make a larger return. The project, however, still demands billions of taxpayer dollars to cover, among other things, the construction of safeguards such as U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers, deep water Arctic ports, and oil spill recovery technology and training programs.

Finally, underlying every author's, journalist's, protester's, and everyday citizen's economic, climate, and conservation arguments opposing Arctic Ocean oil drilling, there is one universal element: the human perspective. This includes local fishermen, families, and the Inupiat native peoples that inhabit the northernmost regions of the United States and the potential damage Arctic drilling poses to their livelihoods, economies, culture, and health.

For example, some indigenous tribes along the Alaskan North Slope maintain their cultural practices through an annual bowhead whale hunt, which provides a year's supply of meat. An Arctic oil spill would terminate both the hunt and the cultural wisdom passed down and practiced during this event. And, just recently, some Unalaskan residents have taken a stand by protesting, "Fish Yes! Shell No!" outside the Dutch Harbor port.

Even if Shell's operation goes smoothly (which it won't), the carbon emissions from burning Arctic Ocean oil exceeds what our atmosphere can handle. And when a spill occurs, it will be nearly impossible to clean up due to weather conditions, ocean conditions, remoteness, lack of infrastructure, etc. Following a spill, ocean currents will spread the oil around the world, affecting us all.

Drilling in the Arctic is dangerous, expensive, and detrimental to the planet. Please join the movement today and shout, "Shell No!"

In the interest of emphasizing the widespread and vast impacts of an oil spill, I have written this blog post into Spanish, with the hopes of reaching a larger and more diverse audience.

Saving Shell's stranded Arctic oil rig in January 2012.
Credit: Photo by Arctic Warrior on Flickr

Catherine Schmidt graduated in May from Davidson College, where she majored in Environmental Studies and was a four-year member of the women's lacrosse team. She is the Ann Clark Environmental Fellow in NRDC's Northern Rockies Office in Bozeman, Montana, this summer.

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