The Juicy details
This past Wednesday, after months of controversy, the Obama administration extended Shell’s permits to drill in the Arctic. Originally set to expire in 2017, Shell sought an extension because 8 years and 7 billion dollars later, Shell still has not succeeded in drilling for oil. Apparently, problems “beyond Shell’s control” such as damaged drilling rigs and ruined spill containment systems delayed the process past the date of the first lease.
The US government says 26 billion barrels of oil potentially sit along Alaska’s northern coast (fairly significant compared to the US’s thirst of 7 billion barrels/year). Shell claims extraction is “clearly in the national interest.” That may be true in the sense that the US loves cheap oil, but what other factors must be considered?
Major risks are embedded with Arctic drilling. Sensitive populations of walrus and salmon face an already changing ecosystem due to global warming that the burning of petroleum has caused. Not to mention, they would face further devastation in the case of a spill (in which a US government study says there is a staggering 75% chance of). To continue, the Arctic's extreme weather and lack of proper infrastructure will make clean-up very difficult in the case of a spill. Which leads us to the cleaning up a spill. The normal methods of chemical dispersants and burning oil, can be quite harmful to the environment. Plus, nobody really knows what happens when millions of gallons of spilled oil sit under the ice for 8 months. But we surmise it can’t be very good for our already stressed ecosystem.
Why is Shell so eager then? Well, for starters, they’ve already sank $7 billion on the Alaska project. Knowing they’re that deep in the hole (and willing to invest even further) tells you that they are estimating a return many times that. Shell also argues the local economy will benefit with significant job creation for Alaska. But those estimates are ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand positions, which is about a malls worth of jobs. You be the judge there.
And it’s true that right now we need oil. We use it in almost every aspect of our lives. It’s in practically most of the things we use everyday like:
- Rubber items
- Hand Lotion
- Trash Bags
...and that's just the tip of the oilberg.
But to us, just drilling for more oil feels like a band-aid for a much greater issue. What's necessary is a cultural shift that emphasizes sustainability instead of wanton consumption. Everywhere, we are surrounded by examples of excess, From appliances designed for obsolescence (your car or anything in the kitchen), ultra thick plastic take-out containers you throw away, shelves bursting with a vast array of cleaning materials & fragrances, to the thousands of toys that sit unused by children each day. But we are so used to it, we accept crazy (and unsustainable) for normal.
Power to the people
Fortunately, for those of us who see a different way, there are many effective tools that we can use to voice our opinion and create change. Websites like change.org, petitions.whitehouse.gov, and petitions.moveon.org give us the power we need to address pressing and urgent issues of our Earth’s future. While the petition to stop Shell's arctic drilling did not win, the fight does not end there. As we keep demanding greener sources of energy, companies will see more of an incentive to research and pursue better technology for more efficient batteries, solar, wind power and other clean energy resources.
Never before has one person been able to join a movement so easily and affect change. Knowing that, why would you NOT, take 2 minutes to fill out your name and help change Shell's risky oil explorations to a focus on a cleaner, more sustainable future? Or go one step more and make your own petition here.