Shell intends to start drilling for fossil fuels in the Arctic Ocean, it was announced yesterday. Next month, the oil company will send a fleet of ships to the Beaufort Sea off the Alaskan coast to begin exploration.
Shell believes that the area, close to the Arctic Fringe, may contain eight billion barrels of oil and almost 30 trillion cubic feet of gas. The Arctic is now seen as one of the most promising fossil fuel reserves. Some oil industry experts estimate that 25% of the world’s undiscovered hydrocarbons are to be found there. Moreover, record crude oil prices make arctic oil exploration far more economically viable. It is thought that Shell’s announcement may spark an oil rush; with Repsol, Conoco-Phillps and Norsk-Hydro all also exploring the possibility of drilling.
The project is opposed by both local authorities in Alaska, who have threatened litigation and environmentalists. Local Inuit and Inupiat communities have refused to reach a conflict avoidance agreement with Shell, whilst the area in which the proposed drilling is to occur is a vital feeding ground for endangered wales. Nor is it clear what the effects of this drilling would be on the adjacent Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with particular concern for the birds and marine mammals that inhabit its coastline.
Shell claims that it sees its role as to “extract and deliver” oil and gas “in environmentally and socially responsible ways”. Yet its behaviour shows its lack of regard for the concerns of local communities and the environmental impact of its projects.