President Barack Obama on Wednesday afternoon gave the final go-ahead for Royal Dutch Shell PLC to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea near Alaska, flouting fierce public opposition to the extraction over the severe danger it poses to the ocean ecosystem, climate, and coastal communities.
"The president has made a big mistake allowing Shell back into the Arctic," declared Center for Biological Diversity Alaska director Rebecca Noblin in a press statement released Wednesday. "The risks of a devastating oil spill in this harsh environment are just too great, particularly for a company with such poor performance record. This is a reckless move by a country that is still struggling to reduce its impact on global warming."
The permits granted Wednesday mean that the oil giant can commence with drilling exploratory wells as soon as its vessels and equipment reach the sea. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced it has included some conditions, limiting Shell to "drilling only the top sections of wells and prohibit Shell from drilling into oil-bearing zones."
But campaigners say that the restrictions are weak, and the fact that Shell will now be permitted to drill in the Arctic constitutes a deep betrayal of Obama's own pledge to make tackling climate change one of his top three priorities during his second term.
Moreover, the decision comes as scientists warn that to avert a climate catastrophe, the majority of fossil fuel deposits around the world must remain unused.
As the Sierra Club's Michael Brune said in response to the Shell announcement on Wednesday: "The simple truth is that if we are to meet our climate goals, we must leave the vast majority of dirty fuels—including 100 percent of the Arctic Ocean’s oil—in the ground."
"With this decision, President Obama has given Shell an open invitation to turn the Chukchi Sea into an energy sacrifice zone, threatening both the resilience of the American Arctic Ocean and his climate legacy," Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Marissa Knodel declared Wednesday. "Shell will pollute the environment, threaten endangered species, impair the subsistence practices and livelihoods of coastal communities, and take us further down the path of climate disruption."
Greenpeace USA declared in a tweet on Wednesday that "Shell cleared a major hurdle to drill in the Arctic, but it's not too late for [the president] to stop them."
Campaigners say the growing climate justice movement—which has protested Arctic drilling from land and sea—will not be discouraged by Wednesday's development, and in fact, will pick up the pace.
"The fight to keep the Arctic Ocean off limits to Big Oil is not over, and climate activists will not let our future be dictated by Shell," said Knodel. "President Obama will bear responsibility for the damage that Shell wreaks in the Arctic."
Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, said Wednesday that protesters are already preparing to respond to the administration's decision: "Now all eyes are on Portland as Kayakativists converge on the City of Roses for Round 2 of the People vs. Shell."
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