The Anglo-Dutch oil group is planning to drill five wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas this summer. The far north has become a centre of commercial attention as global temperatures rise, causing ice to melt in a region that could hold up to a quarter of the world’s remaining hydrocarbon reserves. If Shell is successful, environmental groups fear it will spark an oil rush in one of the world’s last large areas of natural wilderness. The drive into Arctic waters pose major threats to the fragile Polar ecosystems, already suffering severely from global warming and melting 10% per decade. Other than the direct release of pollutants into the Arctic environment, there are multiple ways in which ecosystems could be disturbed, such as the construction of pipelines and roads, noise pollution from offshore drilling, seismic survey activity or additional maritime traffic as well as through the break-up of sea ice.
But it is not just the animals who are in danger. A large scale oil exploration ‘development’ puts at stake the survival of indigenous peoples who, without their traditional living patterns, without their eternal habitat, will have no future.
In seas that remain ice-covered for most of the year, a major oil spill like BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster would be catastrophic and near impossible to clean up. Shell admitted that their oil spill clean up plan is just a theory, since no previous drillings have been done in ice-packed water. On top of this risk, shell is sending out a ‘vintage’ rig, the 30 year old ‘Kulluk’ who was to be sold for scrap before the arctic plans were approved.