Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

'The message is clear: the melting Arctic is a dire warning, not an invitation.' (Image: Greenpeace/Oil Change International)

Untouchable: The Climate Case Against Arctic Drilling

When you think of the Arctic, you may picture vast glaciers, frigid waters, miles of ice, and probably the quintessential polar bear. The Arctic has been the final frontier for centuries: the ends of the earth.

But a new reality is setting in in the region – a reality of a changing climate, and the scramble of Big Oil to move in where sea ice is disappearing. But this irony is just the beginning. Royal Dutch Shell is leading the charge in the Alaskan Offshore Arctic, investing billions in a high risk bet that the world will fail to tackle climate change.

In a new report we published Thursday with Greenpeace USA, we lay bare the case for why the future of Arctic oil is inherently tied to action on climate change. The bottom line is that there is no room for Arctic oil in a climate safe world.

Here are the key reasons why:

-       Fossil fuels that have not yet been proven are not burnable in a climate-safe world, given that the vast majority of the fossil fuels we already have access to will need to be left in the ground.

-       Industry and government claims that Arctic oil is “needed” are based on oil supply and demand scenarios that will lead to at least 5 degrees Celsius warming by 2100 – i.e. climate disaster.

-       The Obama Administration relies on this disastrous scenario ?as its Reference Case for long-term U.S. oil supply and demand planning. Under this scenario, U.S. CO2 emissions would be?190 percent higher than ‘safe’ climate levels in 2040.

-       Large investments in Arctic oil are a multi-billion dollar bet that the world will fail to address climate change, and continue hazardous levels of oil use, for decades to come.

-       From an investor perspective, U.S. Arctic oil is an asset that has a high risk of becoming stranded as billions are poured into exploration for a resource that ultimately cannot be burned safely.

-        U.S. Arctic oil will be exposed to increasing risks associated?with mounting public opposition. These public accountability risks have cost other high carbon industries, such as the Alberta tar sands, billions of dollars, and are the most significant barrier to fossil fuel infrastructure expansion. Concerned citizens are increasingly willing to step up where governments and markets are failing to protect the climate, the environment, and impacted communities.

The fossil fuel industry wants us to believe that oil, gas and coal will continue to dominate our energy supply for decades to come. This fossil fuel fatalism is far from reality, yet it is the basis for flawed policy around the world and a justification for ongoing exploration. It is time to align energy policy with climate science, and start planning for the energy transition everyone knows we must make ?if we are to meet our collective climate goals.

By allowing Shell to drill in the U.S. offshore Arctic Ocean, the Obama Administration is ignoring the world’s best scientists, as well as millions of concerned citizens in North America and beyond. The message is clear: the melting Arctic is a dire warning, not an invitation.

Don’t miss the new report: Untouchable: The climate case against arctic drilling.

© 2021 Oil Change International

Hannah McKinnon

Hannah McKinnon is a program director at Sequoia Climate Foundation, where she leads the Foundation’s work on oil and gas. Previously, she was a contributing writer for Oil Change International.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Love Wins Again': Senate Passes Bill to Protect Same-Sex and Interracial Marriage

"While Congress has taken an important step," said the head of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, "it is incumbent on all of us to continue to push for passage of the comprehensive Equality Act."

Jessica Corbett ·

Groups Blast Biden for 'Siding With Billionaires Over Rail Workers'

As criticism of the president's position mounts, some members of Congress are speaking out in support of including at least seven days of paid sick leave in any measure they pass.

Jessica Corbett ·

'A Very Good Day for Our Republic' as Key Jan. 6 Insurrectionist Convicted of Seditious Conspiracy

"Now the only remaining question is how much higher did those plans go, and who else might be held criminally responsible," said one former federal prosecutor after Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers militia, was found guilty.

Brett Wilkins ·

Australian Report Advises 'Urgent Action' to Combat Slavery in Clean Energy Supply Chains

"We need to see industry, government, the financial sector, and civil society working together to provide access to competitively costed, slavery-free renewable energy."

Brett Wilkins ·

Progressives Mobilize in Georgia for Dec. 6 Senate Runoff

Advocacy groups backing Sen. Raphael Warnock call the Democrat a "reproductive rights champion" who is also "fighting to stop the climate crisis and create good jobs in the process."

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo