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If Shell Drills, Oil Will Be Spilt. Take a Stand to Save the Arctic.

In 2012, Shell attempted an exploratory offshore drilling program in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas — it was an abysmal failure. The company postponed its campaign in the Arctic after a number of major technical and safety issues culminated in the grounding of the Kulluk oil rig during a storm in the Gulf of Alaska.

Despite the widespread problems three years ago, Shell’s drilling is set to resume this summer. Earlier this month the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) approved the oil company’s new plan, pending some state and federal permit approvals. The announcement sparked protests in Seattle, where Shell’s “Polar Pioneer” oil rig is docked.

Activists protest Shell's Polar Pioneer at the Port of Seattle. Photo Credit: Greenpeace, via Common Dreams

Activists protest Shell’s Polar Pioneer at the Port of Seattle. Photo Credit: Greenpeace, via Common Dreams

The DOI’s approval comes just months after the department released new regulations for Alaskan offshore drilling, and a year after the U.S. Coast Guard’s damning report of the Kulluk incident.

The report found that Shell sent the rig through Gulf waters amid forecasts of treacherous weather to avoid Alaska state property taxes, and that the Kulluk’s overworked crew neglected to fully inspect the rig’s towing equipment, and ignored warning alarms when that equipment failed.

Shell’s history of disregard for safety and environmental standards has not swayed the DOI from trusting Shell’s plan to tap into the Arctic’s massive oil reserves, despite mounting concerns over the potential consequences of drilling in such a pristine, remote location.

While a spill is relatively unlikely during Shell’s planned exploration, the program may lead to a production phase that, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, will likely have a seventy-five percent chance of resulting in one or more large-scale spills over the next seventy-five years.

During the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout, the worst accidental offshore oil disaster in history, the Coast Guard played a critical role in clean up and response efforts. The Coast Guard response station closest to Shell’s proposed drilling site is over 1,000 miles away. If a major spill does occur, harsh Arctic weather could delay response efforts even further, or prevent them altogether.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, current infrastructure and technology is dramatically insufficient for a proper response to a major oil spill in the Arctic’s unique environment, and unpredictable weather, permafrost, and rogue ice floes will further the likelihood of an oil spill event.

The Arctic region is responsible for the climate of our entire planet, so protecting it from harm is of utmost importance. Dipping temperatures in the region have already had devastating effects on earth’s ecology. A spill would have a significant impact on Arctic wildlife, and could drastically change the future of our entire planet.

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Matthew M. Sullivan holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Grand Valley State University, with emphases in fiction and nonfiction. He lives smack-dab between some railroad tracks and Grand Rapids Michigan's third-busiest road, and spends his time studying film and literary fiction.