THE BLOG
07/30/2015 10:32 am ET Updated Jul 30, 2016

It's Time for Shell to Abandon Its Irresponsible Arctic Drilling Plans

David Ryder via Getty Images

At this moment, the damaged Fennica icebreaker is entering the water in my home of Portland, OR, in what could be a make-or-break moment for our environment and our future climate.

Here's the background: In 2008, President George W. Bush not only lifted the executive ban on Outer Continental Shelf drilling, but also leased parts of the Arctic's Chukchi Sea to Shell for oil and gas exploration.

When Shell first attempted exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea in 2012, however, it was clear the company was out of its depth. In September, during open sea testing, Shell's spill containment system was "crushed like a beer can." Then the Noble Discoverer caught on fire later in November. To cap off the year, Shell's other rig, the Kulluk, ran aground and was deeply damaged near Kodiak Island after facing severe winter weather. In a review, the U.S. Coast Guard deemed Shell's wreck to be a result of "inadequate assessment and management of risks."

Yet now, with no indication things will be different this time around -- and with clear and mounting evidence we can't afford to burn Arctic oil if we are serious about climate change -- Shell is making moves toward Arctic drilling once again. In fact, Shell's rigs are already on their way to Arctic waters. The only thing that is stopping Shell is the delay of the Fennica, the damaged icebreaker, which they need to begin their drilling operations.

Shell should seize this last chance to reverse course and drop their reckless plans for Arctic drilling before it is too late.

Drilling in the Arctic is the height of irresponsibility. If the Chukchi leases are developed and Shell begins operations, a major oil spill is extremely likely. We all remember the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which resulted in billions of dollars in economic damage to coastal communities and devastating pollution from the 4.9 million barrels of oil that were dumped into the warm Gulf waters. The harsh climate and remote location of the Arctic would make cleanup of a comparable spill nearly impossible, and if a spill happens during the winter, months could pass before a well could be plugged.

Additionally, we should not be investing in infrastructure that will lock in decades of production -- and carbon pollution -- from previously unexploited fossil fuel reserves. The science is clear that we have already discovered five times as much fossil fuel as we can afford to burn if we hope to avert catastrophic climate change. Human civilization already faces enormous challenges from climate change.

We must take steps to alleviate this danger, not make it worse -- and for Shell that means demonstrating global leadership by deciding to not put the world at risk by tapping into untouched and treacherous oil reserves in the Arctic. The U.S. should also use its power and leadership as the new Chair of the Arctic Council to work with other nations to keep Arctic oil off limits.

Simply put, the Arctic may have oil, but the risks of drilling in the Arctic are too great. Arctic oil should stay in the ground.

Several weeks ago, five of my Senate colleagues and I introduced the Stop Arctic Drilling Act of 2015, legislation that would protect the Arctic -- and our climate -- by prohibiting any new or renewed leases for oil drilling in the Arctic.

It can take years to pass legislation in Congress, however, and right now we only have a window of weeks -- maybe just days -- before Shell starts drilling.

A flotilla of activists is trying to keep the Fennica in Portland, but the best path forward is to for the American people to have absolute certainty -- regardless of what happens over the next few days -- that Shell will never drill in the Arctic.

It's time for Shell to do the right thing and announce that they will pull out of the Arctic.

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