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Shell Proves It’s No Match for the Arctic “Shell hasn’t even faced the worst weather conditions

of thwarted attempts to drill in Alaska’s Polar

the Arctic has to offer,” says Clusen, alluding to

Bear Seas, Royal Dutch Shell lost control of

gale-force winds, subzero tempera­tures, 20-foot

an enormous drill rig

surging seas and

being towed near

winter pack ice.

Kodiak Island on

“If one of the

New Year’s Eve.

richest companies

The rig, more than

in the world can’t

260 feet in diameter

buy its way to safety

and carrying some

in the Arctic, it

150,000 gallons of

proves what we’ve

diesel fuel and other

been saying all

petroleum products,

along: This is no

ran aground in rough

place to drill.”

seas after all four

The Obama

engines on its tow


vessel failed. “Shell’s

temporarily sus­

litany of mishaps and blunders is outrageous,

Shell lost control of its Kulluk drill rig, which ran aground.

pended Shell’s offshore Arctic drilling

each one worse than the last,” says Chuck Clusen,

operations in the wake of the latest accident, but it

director of NRDC’s Alaska Project.

has not ended oil explor­ation there. Oil giant

The company’s efforts to drill in the Chukchi and

ConocoPhillips has proposed sinking its own wells

Beaufort Seas — home to more than half our nation’s

in the Arctic Ocean. For its part, Shell is intent on

polar bears and critical habitat for endangered whales

returning to the Polar Bear Seas, with plans to drill

and other marine mammals — have been plagued

off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

from the outset. Last July one of Shell’s drill ships

and in other sensitive waters.

slipped anchor and nearly ran aground; in August the Coast Guard refused to certify as seaworthy the linchpin of Shell’s emergency plan: a spill-response barge that suffered 400 separate safety-related problems. A month later, a 30-mile-long iceberg forced Shell’s drill rig to flee one day after it started operations. Meanwhile, the containment dome Shell planned to use in the event of a blowout to capture spewing oil was, according to media sources, “crushed like a beer can” during pre-deployment testing in placid Puget Sound.

As NRDC and Earthjustice press ahead with courtroom action to stop Shell from drilling, more than 50,000 NRDC Members and online activists recently petitioned President Obama to call off the rigs and undertake a critical review of all offshore drilling in the Arctic, taking into full account Shell’s failures. “What have we learned from Shell’s bumbling misadventure?” asks Clusen. “Only that it’s an environmental disaster waiting to happen.” Take action at:

Drill rig © Jonathan Klingenberg/U.S. Coast Guard


apping a string of dismal failures in a year


Nature's Voice Spring 2013