In fact you don’t have to imagine it because it’s happened so many times – Prince William Sound, the Niger Delta, the Gulf of Mexico to name a few.
Imagine then what it’ll be like if the next big oil spill happens in the Arctic, with its marine ecosystem already in crisis because of rapid climate change. That’s what Shell is risking by starting drilling there – in spite of Greenpeace and the efforts of many millions of people around the world to stop it. The US government says there is a 75% chance of a major spill of oil over the commercial lifetime of wells in the Chukchi Sea, marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean, and Shell itself has admitted that a spill in these icy waters is likely.
Which means that if Shell gets its way, it’s a question of when an accident will happen, not if.
Shell has made lots of promises about operating in a “safe, environmentally responsible manner”, as if drilling for oil below the Arctic sea bed could ever be environmentally responsible. Its CEO even said recently that drilling in the far north was “relatively easy.”
Ask people in the Niger Delta what they think of Shell’s promises about environmental responsibility and you’ll get a short answer: nonexistent! Shell’s quite proud of its safety record, which is surprising given the long list of mishaps and blunders it has been responsible for in Alaska in recent years from crashed drilling rigs, failed safety equipment and serious criminal charges against its sub-contractors.
And the craziest thing of all? We shouldn’t be looking for new oil in the Arctic because we can’t afford to burn it if we are serious about stopping climate change.
Research this year from scientists at University College London said 30 percent of oil reserves we already know about, and 50 percent of gas, are unburnable if we’re to stay below 2 degrees C. We have to leave them in the ground. So why is Shell wasting shareholders’ money by looking for more in the Arctic, when it will blow the world’s carbon budget? (That’s the 1,000 gigatonnes of CO2 which the IPCC, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, says the world can “afford” to burn to stay within 2 degrees, and avoid catastrophic climate change).
Some of the biggest oil companies, including Shell, have told the UN they want to play their part in limiting emissions. Looking for yet more oil is a strange way of going about it.
The oil companies need to wake up. The answer isn’t carbon capture and storage, or a carbon market, or more efficient oil production. And it’s certainly not Arctic oil. The answer is renewable energy for all. They need to get out of the fossil fuel business, and into the renewable energy business.
- “A third of known oil reserves must stay in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. So why is Shell looking for more in the Arctic?”
Joanna Mills is a Communications Strategist for Greenpeace International.
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