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Ghost of Exxon Valdez Haunts Shell in the Arctic

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Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 23.33.36Andy Rowell, September 11, 2015

There are many contradictions about Shell’s Arctic misadventure to drill for oil, but three are the most striking: Firstly the company is spending billions of dollars and risking the reputation of the company on oil that can never be burnt.

Secondly, Obama having just allowed the company to start drilling in the Arctic, then visits the region to warn about climate change; something that his Administration has just made worse.

And thirdly, Shell says it can adequately clean up any spill in the region, if there is an accident. That last promise is for want of a better word, a lie. The only way to clean up a spill in the Arctic is not to spill oil in the first place. The bottom line is that any oil spilt in the Arctic may never be cleaned up, and its legacy may last decades, or even longer.

It is not that we have not been warned. The catastrophic Exxon Valdex oil spill in 1989 in Prince William Sound, which spilled over eleven millions gallons of oil, has given us more than enough evidence that the Artic should be left alone.

And even now – some twenty six years after the disaster in March 1989 – that evidence continues to grow. And a new study released this week yet again raises alarm bells. And yet again it reveals why Shell should never be allowed to drill in the Arctic, as the ecological risks are just too high.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, reveals that embryonic salmon and herring exposed to even very low levels of crude oil can develop hidden heart defects that compromise their later survival. They found that thresholds for harm for fish from crude were “remarkably low.

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Deconstructing Shell’s “Memories of the Future”

Andy Rowell, August 7, 2015

For a while now a growing number of people have been asking a series of pertinent questions about Shell’s Arctic drilling operations, which could probably be boiled down to this:

Why would the global oil giant risk billions of dollars of its own money, irreparable damage to a pristine environment, as well as exacerbate climate change by drilling in the Arctic for oil that we can never afford to burn?

It does not make sense financially, ecologically or from a climate perspective. You don’t have to hang off a bridge in Portland saying #ShellNo to question Shell’s collective wisdom in drilling in the Arctic.

To understand what Shell is doing and the fundamental risks Shell is taking, one really has to understand Shell as a company.

This is an oil giant that has been through great public and private trauma over the last three decades of which two are the most important:

  • In the mid-Nineties with the deaths of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others in Nigeria, where there is compelling evidence of Shell’s collusion in the atrocities and the proposed dumping of the redundant oil platform, the Brent Spar, in the Atlantic;
  • A decade later, in 2004, the company suffered further humiliation when it admitted it had overstated its global proven oil reserves by 4.5 billion barrels, or 22 percent.

Some will argue that the company has never recovered from these episodes, that they made a risk-adverse company with an eye on its public image even more risk-adverse and image conscious. But if that is true, it makes Shell’s Arctic adventure even more worrying or even more a company at odds with itself.

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