The Kulluk, seen in Seattle, is one of two Shell drilling ships in the city undergoing final preparations before going to the Arctic. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
President Barack Obama, who once elevated the hopes of many US environmentalists by promising to be a ‘transformative’ president — one whose term, as he said, would mark “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal” — may yet be the president remembered for passing on a potentially historic opportunity to end, or at least curb, the practice of dangerous offshore drilling.
A frontpage report in today’s New York Times paints the picture of a president eager to open a gateway to arctic drilling that members of his own energy and climate change advisory panel thought was both surprising and “improbable”.
Even as the full impact of the BP spill was still being determined in the Gulf, according to the Times, Obama took the initiative in clearing a regulatory pathway that would allow oil companies — specifically a proposal by oil giant Shell — to start drilling test wells off the Alaskan coast. “The president,” write John Broder and Clifford Krauss for the Times, was “writing a new chapter in the nation’s unfolding energy transformation, in this case to the benefit of fossil fuel producers.”
Environmentalists were shocked by the report. “We never would have expected a Democratic president — let alone one seeking to be ‘transformative’ — to open up the Arctic Ocean for drilling,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told theTimes.
Last week, more than 1 million people called on Obama to save the Arctic from oil drilling, by delivering a million signatures to the White House, and gathering outside to ask the president to stop Shell Oil from drilling this summer.
“Shell’s ships are already on the way to drill in the icy Arctic waters, putting human life, polar bears and whales at risk in harsh, stormy conditions,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), which has worked for many years to keep offshore drilling out of the Arctic Ocean. “President Obama has a small window to stop Shell from spoiling the Arctic, and that’s exactly what people across the country are asking him to do.”
“The Obama administration has been rubber-stamping Shell’s drill permits one after another,” Subhankar Banerjee, photojournalist and editor of the soon to be released Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point,
said in response to the Times
article. “By approving these operations in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas of Alaska, the administration is about to commit a major crime. No one knows how to clean up oil from underneath the ice or in the extremely harsh weather of the Arctic. If Shell is allowed to drill there come July, they will kill the Arctic Ocean, and along the way destroy the traditional culture of the Iñupiat communities.”