Somebody Stop Me Before I Spill Again!

Last week we wrote about the danger posed by Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska. Well, now comes the “told you so” moment. From the Associated Press:

The British government warned Monday that several hundred tons of oil may have leaked into the North Sea from a Royal Dutch Shell rig.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change said it estimates that the leak from a flow line at the Gannet Alpha platform off the Scottish coast that began last week could have spilled several hundred tons of oil into the sea.

An oil rig in the North Sea (photo: flickr/Tuftronic10000)

By all accounts this isn’t another Deepwater Horizon, and (thankfully) it didn’t happen in rough winter conditions, but it illustrates just how dishonest the oil companies are about their ability to protect our oceans and marine wildlife. Several hundred tons of oil is not a dribble—it’s a lot of fuel, enough to create a slick 20 miles long. And it’s at least the 11th reported incident at the platform since 2009, for an industry that notoriously under-reports its spills.

But go ahead, Shell, insist that this is just another “isolated incident” or a “minor accident” or whatever it is your PR folks cook up to let you sleep at night. I guess it doesn’t matter when you’re making billions in profits and have Congress on speed dial.

Walrus cows and yearlings on the ice pack (photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service)

As for the rest of us, isn’t it time to stop trusting these people? How many more spills will it take to realize that we’re being lied to by an industry that isn’t accountable to anyone? If Shell has its way, next summer they’ll be punching holes in the ocean floor north of Alaska, home to walrus, bowhead and beluga whales, polar bears and other iconic species.

Climate change is already melting the sea ice upon which so many animals and native peoples rely—do they really need another kick in the teeth?


For a great, in-depth look at the recent history and politics of oil in the Arctic, check out Subhankar Banerjee’s essay “BPing the Arctic, Again — Fast Tracking Shell’s Dangerous Drilling.”