A coalition of environmental and conservation groups on Monday renewed their challenge of a federal lease which opened nearly 30 million acres of Arctic waters to offshore drilling and was recently upheld by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The coalition, which includes the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, the World Wildlife Fund, and several other environmental organizations, filed a report with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Anchorage, Alaska outlining their intent to challenge the 2008 lease, which they called "risky and reckless."
"Drilling in the Arctic is a recipe for disaster," said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, one of the groups in the coalition. "It's reckless and defies common sense. Oil and water don't mix."
"There's no worse place on earth to drill for oil than the Arctic Ocean, and no company with a worse recording trying than Shell," added Nathaniel Lawrence, Arctic director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "And as reckless as it is to drill there, it could do even more harm by pumping all that carbon into the atmosphere, since science tells us Arctic oil has no place in a world grappling with the challenge of climate change."
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In May, the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management gave conditional approval for oil giant Shell to drill into the Arctic Ocean's Chukchi Sea after conducting a review of the company's environmental and safety plans. The coalition on Monday called the review "rushed and cursory" and said it "inadequately assessed its threats and effects."
"There's no worse place on earth to drill for oil than the Arctic Ocean, and no company with a worse recording trying than Shell."
—Nathaniel Lawrence, Natural Resources Defense Council
In addition to the potential release of significant carbon emissions, activists have long warned that fossil fuel exploration in Chukchi Sea would harm endangered species which rely on the Arctic's pristine ecosystems to survive, and that an accident in those remote waters could be more devastating than the 2010 BP oil spill which killed 11 workers and poured millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Moreover, offshore drilling in the Arctic—which could start as early as July—also puts a heavy burden on Indigenous populations in the area, particularly those that rely on whaling.
"The lease sale decision...is directly contrary to President Obama’s commitment to take essential action to limit the worst effects of climate change for future generations," said Earthjustice.
A month before Shell's drilling plan was approved, one of its rigs failed a Coast Guard inspection, while another was held in port over pollution control problems. And in 2012, the oil giant's Kulluk drilling rig was wrecked during an exploratory mission that was ultimately abandoned.
"Interior unlawfully approved Shell's problem-riddled Arctic drilling plan. In doing this, it has failed the communities and wildlife of this region," said Erik Grafe, Earthjustice staff attorney. "Allowing oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean takes us in the wrong direction on combating climate change and downplays the catastrophic consequences of an oil spill here. Shell proved itself unprepared in 2012, and it remains so today and should not be permitted to drill in our fragile Arctic Ocean."
Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Marissa Knodel added, "This is the largest, loudest, and dirtiest exploration plan ever proposed in the American Arctic Ocean. Shell’s revised Exploration Plan sets us on the path toward climate catastrophe as the latest science says Arctic oil must be kept in the ground in order to have a chance at keeping the planet safe. The only place for these dirty fossil fuels is in the ground."
"Shell Oil's planned exploration of the Chukchi Sea poses heavy burden and risk on Inupiat cultural livelihood," said Faith Gemmill, executive director of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL). "Moving forward with drilling in the Chukchi Sea without any concrete measures to address a large oil spill in broken ice conditions is a perilous venture that could have disastrous consequences for the Inupiat and their whaling way of life. No amount of profit is worth the potential loss of a culture’s livelihood."
The lawsuit is just the latest move in the fight against Shell's offshore drilling plans. In recent weeks, activists in Seattle have blockaded terminals holding one of the oil giant's rigs, organized a "flotilla rally" to oppose the company's operations, and protested from kayaks in an action they dubbed 'Paddle in Seattle.'