The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Shell Oil recklessly plunges into Alaskan waters, lawsuit now filed

Shell Oil Company has spent years trying to obtain permission to drill off the coast of Alaska, in which time they have faced lawsuits, flack from environmental organizations, gigantic sea-ice blocking drilling sites and, most recently, the damage to the containment dome — a crucial mechanism in preventing environmental damage in case of oil leaks.

Due to this critique and damage, Shell Oil has canceled its plans to drill this season and decided to hold off on the project until next year.

On Sept. 8, Shell Oil began drilling 70 miles off the Alaskan coast in the Chukchi Sea. Shell has been under scrutiny from groups like Greenpeace and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility — also known as Peer, a group that helps U.S. federal and state employees sound the alarm on environmental protection issues — due to potentially insufficient testing of its oil-leak prevention mechanism.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar stated that all exploration in Alaska would be done under “the strongest oversight, safety requirements and emergency response plans ever established.”

According to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, however, the capping stack was only tested for about two hours. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement had just two officials present at the testing. The Guardian reports that the group filing suit against Shell is Peer.

“The first test merely showed that Shell could dangle its cap in 200 feet of water without dropping it,” said Kathryn Douglass, a Peer staff lawyer, in an interview with The Guardian. “The second test showed the capping system could hold up under laboratory conditions for up to 15 minutes without crumbling. Neither result should give the American public much comfort.”

Shell responded, arguing that the capping stack was one of many mechanisms that will be deployed in the case of an oil spill. They did not, however, address the brief amount of time spent testing the capping stack.

It is no surprise that radical environmental organization Greenpeace has responded negatively to Shell Oil drilling in Alaska.

“Such recklessness wouldn’t look out of place in a stock-car race,” Ben Ayliffe, senior Arctic campaigner at Greenpeace told The Guardian. “The only option now is for the U.S. government to call a halt to Shell’s plans to open up the frozen north because the company is so clearly unable to operate safely in the planet’s most extreme environment.”

Biology major Kristy Lapenta ’15 shared similar concerns.

“Alaska’s ecosystem is delicate and its waters are home to many different endangered and vulnerable marine life,” said Lapenta.  “I really dislike that Shell now has permission to drill there.”

At the same time that Shell began drilling, the company was also performing its final test of the oil spill containment dome. During this test, the dome broke.

A Shell company representative told Bloomberg, “We are disappointed that the dome has not yet met our stringent acceptance standards, but as we have said all along, we will not conduct any operation until we are satisfied that we are fully prepared to do it safely.”

As a result of these setbacks and criticisms, Shell Oil has announced it will postpone all drilling for oil this year and instead plans on drilling smaller “top holes” in preparation for the following year.

At last, Greenpeace and other concerned citizens can take a deep breath until Shell addresses the pending lawsuit, the Alaskan coast’s valued nature and the failed containment dome.

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