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n a stunning victory for one of America’s last

and embarrassing blunders during the 2012 drilling

pristine ocean habitats and half the nation’s

season, including emergency response equipment

threatened polar bears, a federal appeals court

that was “crushed like a beer can” during routine

has effectively blocked the oil and gas industry from

testing and the grounding of a 260-foot drill rig,

drilling off the coast of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea.

sent the company into retreat in 2013. Now, Shell

The ruling marks a major win in an ongoing

has abandoned its exploratory drilling plans for

campaign by NRDC and our allies to keep Big

this year as well. “This time-out gives the Obama

Oil’s rigs — and the

Administration a

risk of a catastrophic

golden opportunity

spill — out of the Polar

to finally break with

Bear Seas. Just two

the failed policy of

weeks after the court

the Bush years,” says

decision, Shell reversed

Lawrence. “We’re

course and announced

calling on President

that it would not

Obama and Interior

attempt to drill in the

Secretary Jewell to

Arctic this summer.

chart a new, more

The court found that

responsible course

in approving the sale

Walrus and other Arctic wildlife have been spared the threat of an oil spill — for now.

of some 30 million

by putting the Arctic completely off-limits

acres of drilling leases in the Chukchi Sea in 2008,

to the oil giants.” That long-overdue move would

the Bush Administration wildly underestimated

not only preserve our spectacular natural heritage

the potential for oil spills and other hazards. The

but also spare the earth’s embattled climate more

Interior Department now will have to go back to the

disruption by keeping the Arctic’s vast store of fossil

drawing board and undertake a thorough environmental

fuels safely in the ground.

review of the dangers posed by drilling in the Arctic’s treacherous waters. “The court basically said the government has no idea what the real conse­quences of drilling will be,” says Niel Lawrence, an NRDC senior attorney. “And until it knows those impacts, it has no business letting Shell continue to operate in the Arctic Ocean.”

This milestone courtroom victory would not have been possible without the generous support of hundreds of thousands of NRDC Members who have helped fund a tough battle against two admini­ strations and Big Oil that has raged in and out of the courtroom for five years. As a direct result, the polar bears, whales, dolphins and countless other

Shell Oil has been extremely aggressive in its attempts

animals that depend on the Arctic Ocean for survival

to drill in the Polar Bear Seas — and it has met with

will be spared the threat of a devastating oil spill

one ominous failure after another. A litany of serious

— at least for now.

Walrus © Steven Kazlowski/


Shell Forced to Retreat in Arctic


Nature's Voice Spring 2014