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In order to protect the Arctic, Greenpeace is focusing on halting immediate threats from oil and gas exploration to working towards a permanent sanctuary in the Arctic. 

Polar bears in the Arctic

Saving the Arctic from Shell Oil

In 2014, Arctic sea ice reached its minimum for the year. It is the sixth lowest extent of Arctic ice on record. This continues a stark downward trend in Arctic sea ice. The lowest extent on record was in 2012. The eight lowest levels of Arctic sea ice have been recorded in the last eight years.

Which is to say: the Arctic is in a lot of trouble. The Arctic is home to millions of people, many of whom are members of indigenous communities who depend directly on the Arctic staying the way it is. It is also the home of countless unique species, like polar bears, arctic foxes, narwhals, and walruses. As the arctic ice retreats, so does their home.

And the melting of the Arctic does not just affect the people and animals who live there. The Arctic is responsible for regulating the global climate. As it warms because of global warming, global warming gets even worse. Threats to the Arctic are threats to us all.

If you ask the corporations that have profited most off of fossil fuels, Arctic warming is great news. As sea ice melts, open water in the Arctic makes oil extraction possible. There is a new oil rush, and it is happening at the top of the world.

An Arctic oil rush would be nothing short of disastrous. Not only would more oil unleash even more global warming, it would put fragile ecosystems at greater risk from oil spills. And all the way up in the remotest places on earth, where conditions are harsh and forbidding, any hope of containing an oil spill is a pipe dream.

Make no mistake, the entire oil industry is chomping at the bit to get its drills into the Arctic. The Russian giant Gazprom is already drilling in the Russian north. Exxon is looking to follow suit. However few have been as eager—and bumbling—than Shell Oil. That is why Greenpeace has singled Shell out as our key target in halting the Arctic oil rush.

Here’s just a sampling of the indications that Shell is ill-prepared to go into the Arctic.

  • Despite sinking almost $6 billion into its Arctic schemes, Shell has yet to make any real headway. But that’s not the only thing that should have Shell’s investors nervous.
  • In January 2014, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the US Department of the Interior violated US law when it opened the Chuchki Sea to oil drilling. Shell, the recipient of a lease in the Chuchki, had its plans for drilling hampered right after the company had issued profit reports that were terrifying to its investors.
  • Shell has still failed to provide any adequate plan for spill prevention or recovery, not that anybody believes either is avoidable when the hostile conditions of the Arctic meet the company’s historic ineptitude. In 2014 the company was forced to scrap its Arctic drilling plans when a US court ruled more detailed environmental information was required.
  • In 2013, Shell tried to bring an ancient drill rig called the Kulluk out of retirement to use in the Arctic. While being towed, the Kulluk broke free and ran aground near Kodiak Island. The crew had to be airlifted. In 2014, a US Coast Guard investigation determined that Shell had been ill-prepared, it’s crew negligent, and its equipment full of design flaws.
  • In 2012 a gigantic ice floe temporarily canceled Shell’s drilling plans in the Arctic after on 36 hours of drilling. That same year, there were revelations that Shell was using substandard safety and cleanup equipment that it barely tested, a gamble that proved Shell had learned nothing from BP’s Deepwater Horizon blowout just two years earlier.
  • Shell finally canceled its 2012 Arctic drilling after a test caused an oil containment dome on one of its ships to be crushed like a beer can. -In a sign of things to come, Shell tried for years to dump its North Sea drilling platform the Brent Spar. Finally, after immense public pressure capped by a tense occupation of the platform by Greenpeace activists. Shell finally caved in 1995, agreeing to dismantle the Brent Spar on land and recycle it. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/about/history/the-brent-spar/

Drilling for oil in the Chuchki Sea is one of Shell’s most prized projects. The company’s $6 billion in sunk costs is testament to that. But even higher than the stakes for Shell are the stakes for the environment and people of the Arctic.

Stopping Shell is simple. The Obama Administration needs to take away its lease to drill in the Alaskan Arctic. The Administration has power to pull Shell’s drilling permits any time it wants. The Obama Administration is not fulfilling its responsibility to the nation and future generations. It is allowing companies like Shell to pursue drilling in the Arctic without adequate regulation or oversight.

Creating a permanent Arctic Sanctuary 

Climate change resulting from human activity has removed at least 75% of Arctic summer sea ice volume at rates never before experienced in human history. Soon, the Arctic Ocean will be like other oceans for much of the year: open water that is exposed to exploitation and environmental destruction.

Despite the Arctic Ocean’s unique vulnerabilities, it is the least protected of all the world’s oceans. Less than 1.5% of its area has any form of protected area status. In the high seas of the Arctic, that portion of the Arctic that belongs to no nations, there is none.

Who is the Arctic Council?

The Arctic Council is the intergovernmental forum made up of Arctic nations tasked with managing the Arctic region. The nations include the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the Russian Federation.  

2015 is the year the US will take the chair of the Arctic Council putting the US government and Arctic Council representative John Kerry in a unique position to establish meaningful Arctic protection.

The Arctic Ocean has now become the crucial battleground in the fight for a sustainable future for our planet. However, Arctic coastal states (Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia and the US) are keen to lay claim to the valuable resources found beyond their national boundaries, and they have all submitted applications to extend their polar seabeds. Governments and industry see the opening of the Arctic as yet another business opportunity to extract more fossil fuels and fish.

Humanity now faces a stark choice. We can exploit the resources of one of the world’s most fragile and precious oceans, or we can manage it responsibly – both for future generations, and for northern and Indigenous communities today, whose livelihoods rely upon a healthy Arctic.

What would an Arctic Sanctuary look like?

Save the Arctic

The Arctic ocean is vast, and its ecosystem is dependent on that largeness. An Arctic Sanctuary would need to be large as well. The Arctic high seas make up an area the size of the Mediterranean Sea.

Within the Arctic Sanctuary, there will be no fishing, no military activity, and no exploration for or extraction of hydrocarbons or other minerals from the seabed.

Strict environmental controls will apply to all shipping in this area, although not all shipping activity will be prohibited – heavy fuel oil use will, for example, not be allowed, a practice that is already adopted in Antarctic waters.

How we are going to do it

First and foremost, establishing an Arctic Sanctuary requires that we all act for the Arctic. It means that all of us take the time to make it clear to our governments and to the international community that we believe the Arctic is worth protecting.

Join the movement to Save the Arctic here!

Second of all, we have to get the international community to make the commitments to protect the Arctic. The technical processes by which an Arctic Marine Sanctuary can be established are outlined in this Greenpeace report. We will be pressuring the international community every chance we get. And our effort in collaboration with many NGOs and indigenous people’s organizations to collect signatories for an Arctic Declaration in solidarity with Arctic peoples is a major new step.

Check out the Arctic Declaration here.


The latest updates


Shell burns priceless art in latest Greenpeace Arctic video

Blog by Cassady Sharp | May 27, 2015

Greenpeace’s Save the Arctic campaign has created a shocking video targeting oil giant Shell and its plans to drill in the US Arctic this summer. In the film, three replicas of famous landscape art are set on fire, and as they burn away, new...

Santa Barbara Oil Spill Underscores Why We Can’t Allow Arctic Drilling

Blog by Ryan Schleeter | May 26, 2015

Last week, a major oil spill in Santa Barbara County made headlines after a ruptured pipeline dumped as much as 105,000 gallons of crude oil on the California coastline. The spill stretches across roughly nine miles of state beach with tens of...

5 ways Shell’s not walking its talk on climate change

Blog by Louise Rouse | May 19, 2015

Shell says a lot about the need for the oil industry to be credible on climate change. It talks about the fight against climate change being a moral obligation, about the expectations it has of its contractors, and about the lessons Shell has...

#ShellNo Flotilla: Paddle in Seattle

Blog by Sarah Rasmussen | May 17, 2015

[View the story “Shell No Flotilla: Paddle in Seattle” on Storify] The post #ShellNo Flotilla: Paddle in Seattle appeared first on Greenpeace Blogs .

President Obama’s Legacy: Arctic Drilling?

Blog by Nithin Coca | May 14, 2015

Right now, Shell’s Arctic-bound drilling rig is getting ready to head to the Arctic Ocean, where it is set to begin drilling for oil when the ice thaws this summer. This is the closest we’ve ever been to an Arctic environmental catastrophe. This...

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