Drill in the Arctic? Shell No

Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc. plans to drill in the Arctic's Chukchi Sea this summer, and we plan to stop them. This weekend, while hundreds of Seattle activists were peacefully protesting in their kayaks, we were finalizing our court papers. Yesterday, together with Earthjustice and a coalition of concerned groups, we went to Alaska district court and asked the judge to grant us summary judgment and invalidate a federal rule that permits Shell to drill for oil in the waters off northern Alaska. You can read our complaint here.

Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey

Shell's exploration plans this summer include drilling test wells from two behemoth platforms, blasting the waters with seismic survey guns, and flooding the fragile region with a fleet of support vessels, planes, and helicopters. And the oil giant plans to do it in the primary summer feeding grounds of the highly vulnerable Pacific walrus.

Walruses rely on sea ice in the Chukchi Sea to rest, rear their calves, avoid predators, and reach their food. That sea ice has been melting at alarming rates, reaching record lows in 2014 and 2012. These global warming-driven changes profoundly affect walruses, which now are forced to rest on the northern Alaska coast and then swim over a hundred miles to reach their preferred feeding grounds.

Thumbnail image for Kulluk Rig and Towboats, Kodiak, AK - US Pacific Command 2.jpg

(Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard)

For the walruses and their calves, receding sea is a push towards extinction. For Shell, it's an opening to be exploited for profit: with less ice, Shell can now try again (they were forced to retreat in 2012) to jam their monster drill rigs and ships into previously inaccessible areas.

The answer to a melting planet -- to a human-induced imbalance in the Arctic ecosystem -- is not to extract more oil at steep ecological costs. Walruses are already in perilous decline. This rule, which is based on improper analysis and lacks necessary mitigation measures, would allow oil drillers to further harm the species.

Shell says it wants to drill and to that we join the loud chorus of voices saying: Shell No.

About the Authors

Giulia C.S. Good Stefani

Attorney, Marine Mammal and Southern California Ecosystems projects

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