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Obama Imperils Arctic, Ignores Public Outcry by Approving Shell’s Drilling Permits

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The Obama administration today gave Shell the last permit it needs to begin controversial and dangerous oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska, despite strong public opposition and continuing failures of the company’s equipment. Shell’s first attempt to explore for oil in the Arctic Ocean ended with the embarrassing grounding of its drillship in 2012, and last week Shell’s critical icebreaker was sent back to Oregon to repair a large gash in its hull.  

“The president has made a big mistake allowing Shell back into the Arctic. The risks of a devastating oil spill in this harsh environment are just too great, particularly for a company with such poor performance record,” said Center for Biological Diversity Alaska Director Rebecca Noblin. “This is a reckless move by a country that is still struggling to reduce its impact on global warming.”

Climate scientists have warned that to avoid the worst global warming scenarios, Arctic oil must stay safely in the ground. The Obama administration has determined that there is a 75 percent chance of one or more large oil spills in the Chukchi Sea if there is oil development. And Shell’s history doesn’t inspire confidence that it’s going to beat those odds.

In 2012, Shell’s Kulluk drill rig grounded, its oil-spill response containment dome was crushed during testing, and the Coast Guard found 16 significant safety violations in the Discoverer drill rig. Then last week, one of the icebreakers Shell will use on this project was damaged in shallow Alaska seas.


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“I shudder to think what else Shell has in store for the fierce and fragile Arctic region this summer,” Noblin said.

The dire consequences of Arctic drilling have prompted a national movement to keep Shell out of the Arctic. On July 18, cities across the country held rallies to protest Shell’s Arctic ambitions, amplifying that call on social media with the #ShellNo hashtag and  continuing the “kayaktavist” movement born in Seattle when citizens there blocked Shell’s ships in the city’s port.

“As scary as it is to think about an oil spill in the Arctic, the climate consequences of Arctic drilling are the real horror story,” Noblin said. “If we don’t keep this dirty oil in the ground, there’s not going to be much of an Arctic left to protect.”


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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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