Despite Epic Fail in 2012, Shell Wants Arctic Drilling “Do Over” in 2014

When Shell launched its drilling operations off the Alaska coast in 2012, it promised to employ “world-class technology and experience to ensure a safe, environmentally responsible Arctic exploration program.” What the world got instead was an epic failure:

“Shell experienced a series of problems and accidents last year, among them the grounding of a drilling rig, the Kulluk, which was stuck for several days off Kodiak Island. The Coast Guard said it found 16 safety and environmental violations on the other drilling rig used by Shell, the Noble Discoverer…Regulators also charged that both drilling rigs violated air pollution permit limits. The Environmental Protection Agency imposed more than $1 million in fines in a settlement agreement.”

The dramatic breakdown of the project had many, including the National Wildlife Federation, hoping that Shell would see the error of its ways and abandon plans to drill in this delicate environment. The Chukchi Sea, the area off the Alaska coast where Shell has focused its drilling operations, is one of the most pristine, breathtaking and unique settings on the planet—ringed seals, whales, polar bears, walruses and millions of shorebirds, seabirds, and waterfowl call the Chukchi home. Unfortunately, despite the accidents and mishaps of 2012, Shell a few weeks ago announced plans to resume exploratory drilling operations in 2014.

Risky Business for Arctic Wildlife

National Wildlife Federation has long opposed drilling in the Arctic—the potential for disaster is simply too high. While drilling always comes with the potential for a major spill, the chance of this happening in Arctic waters is much greater.  Icebergs, hurricane-force winds, extreme cold and darkness are all major threats to drilling operations. In the likely case of an oil spill, no technology currently exists to cleanup oil in the Arctic’s icy waters. Even if the technology did exist, it is unclear how quickly responders would be able to reach the spill to begin the cleanup process. Despite Shell’s claims that it is “Arctic Ready,” the simple truth is that an oil spill in this region could cause long-lasting and devastating impacts to this habitat and its wildlife.

For the plants and animals that call the Chukchi Sea home, a drilling disaster or spill could destroy vital denning, hunting and migratory habitat. For the ringed seal and polar bear, two animals currently listed as “threatened” on the Endangered Species Act list, the impacts of drilling will be felt even if a spill does not occur. That’s because climate change, which is already having a dramatic effect on Arctic wildlife, will only worsen if Shell is allowed to drill, extract and burn the “multibillion barrel prize” that exists in the Chukchi.

Help Ringed Seals and Other Arctic Wildlife

The combination of Arctic sea-ice loss and exploratory drilling in their habitat is a double whammy for ringed seals. Arctic sea ice has contracted dramatically over the last decade, and climate models predict that continuing sea ice decline may soon lead to conditions insufficient to support seals. Ringed seals seldom come ashore, depending almost exclusively on sea ice for their reproduction and livelihood. Less ice means fewer seals.

Donate Now ButtonHelp National Wildlife Federation fight for ringed seals and and at-risk wildlife across the nation by making a donation today. With your help, we can continue fighting against dangerous and dirty fuel projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline and Shell’s exploratory drilling in the Chukchi.