On April 20, 2010, the largest environmental disaster occurred in our country. BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 people and spewing more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Today, 14 species continue to show exposure to ongoing symptoms of oil -- from dolphins to sea turtles to oysters -- according to a new report released by the National Wildlife Federation. In 2013, crews collected 4.6 million pounds of oiled materials from the Gulf Coast shoreline. In an interview with National Public Radio in 2013, Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Anderson said "a lot of people don't realize that the Deepwater Horizon response is still going on... It's been a marathon, not a sprint." No matter what BP is saying, the oil is still not gone -- it still lingers, impacting wildlife and the lives that depend upon it.
Almost 25 years prior, on March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck a reef off the coast of Alaska. The Valdez was carrying 53 million gallons of thick, dark, toxic crude oil -- nearly 11 million gallons gushed into Prince William Sound. Today, only 13 of the 32 monitored populations, habitats, and resource services injured in the Exxon Valdez spill are considered fully "recovered" or "very likely recovered." Some animal populations, such as Pacific herring, pigeon guillemots, and the AT1 killer whale pod, are still listed as "not recovering." In fact, the pod has not had a calf since the spill and the pod itself will likely become extinct.
As the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez spill disasters have shown us, there is no such thing as oil spill cleanup -- once oil has been spilled the battle has been lost. Yet, Shell Oil Company still is continuing its reckless and dangerous pursuit of drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Any oil company that says that it can drill safely in a harsh and demanding environment, such as the Arctic, is severely underestimating the risks and putting the entire region in jeopardy. It is unsafe, dangerous and irresponsible to drill in the Arctic.
Shell's 2012-2013 drilling season revealed the force of Mother Nature, the harshness and uncertainty of the Arctic climate and Shell's incompetence. On December 31, 2012, the true challenge of drilling in the Arctic began to play out on a national stage. America watched transfixed as Shell's drilling rig, the Kulluk, ran aground off the coast of Kodiak Island, Alaska. Soon after, a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Shell's oil spill containment dome was "crushed like a beer can" during routine testing in waters exponentially calmer than those found in the Arctic. And just this month, the Coast Guard released its investigative report on the Kulluk grounding, which highlighted numerous examples of Shell's inadequate management -- including ignoring direct advice from the master of the Aiviq set to tow the Kulluk. The Aiviq master sent an email to the tow master aboard the Kulluk prior to the infamous trip that leaving Dutch Harbor with the proposed "length of tow, at this time of year, in this location, with our current routing guarantees an ass kicking."
The Arctic Ocean is a vulnerable region, and home to polar bears, walrus and bowhead whales. With Shell Oil out of America's Arctic Ocean for 2014, the Obama administration has the perfect chance to chart a new course that protects this fragile place. It is time to put an end to drilling in our most sensitive and valuable ecosystems and to truly learn from the history that has come before us.