Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Court Upholds Shell's Arctic Oil Spill Plans Despite Scientific Warnings

Climate

Greenpeace

By Ben Ayliffe

It's pretty safe to say that the Arctic is under pressure like never before. Climate change is warming it faster than any other part of our planet. Sea ice is shrinking. The way of life of Indigenous Peoples is seriously threatened and animal habitats are vanishing. Oil companies eye a polar bonanza while hulking fishing fleets are edging ever northwards.

So we were surprised to hear the other night that a court in Alaska had ruled against the challenge Greenpeace took with other environmental groups to have the U.S. government's approval of Shell's Arctic oil spill response plan for the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas overturned.

You can find Shell's plan in all its glory on its website, though it is also available in the fantasy section of most good bookshops (apparently Peter Jackson is in talks to turn it into a movie). It’s quite a page turner. 

We believed that, in line with its legal responsibility to protect the Arctic environment, U.S. courts would take a dim view of a company relying on a spill plan that was so bad it bordered on the comic. Especially after a catalogue of Arctic mishaps, blunders and bungles last summer, which occurred with such unerring frequency we started setting our watches by them here at GP Towers.

However, the judge decided that approving the response plan was fine. We disagree, but the decision also raises a fundamental question about our relationship with the Arctic and calls into question whether the global community can adequately respond to the crisis unfolding at the top of the world.

Let me try and put this into some context.

As Shell was being granted carte blanche for industrial recklessness on ice, new warnings were surfacing from scientists about the fate of the Arctic that couldn’t be any starker.

In Nature, ice scientists examined the potentially catastrophic impacts of plausible Arctic thawing and the release of a giant methane bubble under the ice of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. They concluded that the melt could have "enormous implications" for the global climate and cost the economy trillions of dollars. 

A paper in Science suggested that rapid ice loss is having a significant effect on the Arctic ecosystem, "kicking the legs out from under the entire northern dinner table" by undermining the basis of the food chain and so impacting animals at every trophic level. Another in Nature Climate Change looked at the way disappearing ice could increase atmospheric warming.

Experts at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre revealed they expect this summer's sea ice minimum will "without doubt" rank in the five lowest levels ever recorded, even though conditions in the north have not been "terribly optimal for ice loss." Another scientist added that the amount of ice this summer "fits into the long-term trend of significant ice retreat and ice thinning from the 1970s and 1980s." The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the Arctic is now changing at an unprecedented level, warming at "about twice the rate of lower latitudes." In 2012, summer sea ice was 54 percent lower than in 1982, as NOAA talked of the "drastic and persistent reduction in extent of summer sea ice cover in coastal margins." The list goes on. 

And it's not looking too good for Arctic wildlife, either. Vanishing ice is putting baby harp seals at risk and scientists in Norway have just discovered the body of an emaciated polar bear they believe starved to death because of climate change.

How we respond to these increasingly obvious alarm bells will define the future of the Arctic, the people who call it home and the plants and animals that live there.

The approval of an oil spill response plan with such failings is a step in completely the wrong direction. Not only does it invite the nightmare scenario of a Deepwater Horizon-style spill in ice, it also sends a message from governments that meaningful protection for the Arctic is not a priority. At the very same time the science is telling us this unique region demands urgent action to save it from our addiction to climate-wrecking fossil fuels.

This has to change. 

A first step would be to keep Shell out of the Arctic. Safe oil drilling in the far north is an oxymoron, but even now, after a disastrous drilling season in Alaska, the company has agreed a deal with Russian energy giant Gazprom to open up its remote and freezing waters.

Greenpeace won't stop until Shell is out of the icy north and this special place is properly protected. But we need your help.

Join us and save the Arctic.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.

——–

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The Anderson Community Group. Left to right, Caroline Laur, Anita Foust, the Rev. Bryon Shoffner, and Bill Compton, came together to fight for environmental justice in their community. Anderson Community Group

By Isabella Garcia

On Thanksgiving Day 2019, right after Caroline Laur had finished giving thanks for her home, a neighbor at church told her that a company had submitted permit requests to build an asphalt plant in their community. The plans indicated the plant would be 250 feet from Laur's backdoor.

Read More Show Less
Berber woman cooks traditional flatbread using an earthen oven in her mud-walled village home located near the historic village of Ait Benhaddou in Morocco, Africa on Jan. 4, 2016. Creative Touch Imaging Ltd. /NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Danielle Nierenberg and Jason Flatt

The world's Indigenous Peoples face severe and disproportionate rates of food insecurity. While Indigenous Peoples comprise 5 percent of the world's population, they account for 15 percent of the world's poor, according to the World Health Organization.

Read More Show Less
Danny Choo / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Olivia Sullivan

One of the many unfortunate outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic has been the quick and obvious increase in single-use plastic products. After COVID-19 arrived in the United States, many grocery stores prohibited customers from using reusable bags, coffee shops banned reusable mugs, and takeout food with plastic forks and knives became the new normal.

Read More Show Less
A mostly empty 110 freeway toward downtown Los Angeles, California on April 28, 2020. Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The shelter in place orders that brought clean skies to some of the world's most polluted cities and saw greenhouse gas emissions plummet were just a temporary relief that provided an illusory benefit to the long-term consequences of the climate crisis. According to new research, the COVID-19 lockdowns will have a "neglible" impact on global warming, as Newshub in New Zealand reported.

Read More Show Less
Centrosaurus apertus was a plant-eating, single-horned dinosaur that lived 76 to 77 million years ago. Sergey Krasovskiy / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Scientists have discovered and diagnosed the first instance of malignant cancer in a dinosaur, and they did so by using modern medical techniques. They published their results earlier this week in The Lancet Oncology.

Read More Show Less
Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. NPS

By Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts

The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.

Read More Show Less

Trending

The ubiquity of guns and bullets poses environmental risks. Contaminants in bullets include lead, copper, zinc, antimony and mercury. gorancakmazovic / iStock / Getty Images Plus

New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday that she will attempt to dismantle the National Rifle Association (NRA), arguing that years of corruption and mismanagement warrant the dissolution of the activist organization, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less