After taking a big step forward on climate by announcing new commitments to cut carbon pollution, the Obama administration has taken a step back by approving risky oil drilling in the Arctic.
The Obama administration announced on Tuesday that it had given the go ahead to Shell to restart its oil exploration in the Alaskan Arctic, in the Chukchi Sea.
Shell has already tried to drill for oil in the Arctic, but severe weather conditions and the insufficient emergency planning ended the operation after their oil rig ran aground on an Alaskan island.
Coming as the US government announced its national climate commitment ahead of Paris, this move threatens its leadership and its mixed messages risk thwarting climate progress.
As the US prepares to take on leadership of the Arctic council, it is more important than ever it supports measures to keep dirty fuels in the ground in the Arctic.
In anticipation of drilling as soon as this summer, Shell has already begun moving its two contracted drilling units to the United States.
The decision has raised concerns about the high possibility of serious oil spills and the certainty of accelerating global warming.
A recent environmental analysis conducted by the Interior Department said that Arctic drilling has a 75% chance of causing a major oil spill of more than 1,000 barrels of oil, and risking the region’s pristine environment and the wildlife that depends upon it.
Meanwhile, the same analysis said that Arctic drilling “would produce greenhouse gas emissions and particulate matter that would contribute to climate change.”
If the world is to stay within its carbon budget and contain global warming to the internationally agreed level of 2 degrees Celsius, most known fossil fuel reserves need to stay right where they are.
A recent analysis published in the scientific journal Nature shows that in order to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, drilling in the Arctic is completely out of the question.
And the Arctic is already experiencing the impacts of increased global warming This winter the Arctic sea ice covered a smaller surface than ever before.
Campaigners warn that the US’s decision is “indefensible”.
Greenpeace Arctic campaigner Ian Duff said:
It’s an indefensible decision. The Arctic is melting rapidly because of climate change. But instead of seeing it as a warning, Shell sees profit. It wants to drill for more of the stuff that caused the melting in the first place. And all the evidence shows Shell can’t drill safely in the Arctic.
The extreme conditions means it’s when, not if, a spill will happen. This decision puts Obama in an untenable position. Obama’s got to show leadership on climate in the run up to Paris, but this is a massive blow to US credibility. The Arctic has become the iconic battleground for the global climate movement, so we can expect to see a huge reaction against this in the US and across the globe.
In a bid to protect this vulnerable region from the impacts of industrialisation and climate change, Greenpeace hard to ban on offshore drilling and unsustainable industrial fishing across the Arctic’s icy waters, and to create a protected sanctuary around the North Pole.
It’s Save the Arctic campaign has already seen some success with French oil company Total ruling out drilling for oil in the offshore Arctic, recognising a “spill would do too much damage to the image of the company”.