Shell abandons (for now) Arctic oil drilling. Let’s make it permanent.

A Coast Guard helicopter rescues crew members from Shell's mobile drilling unit Kulluk off Alaska.
(Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Fra / Associated Press)

Shell’s decision to give up on Arctic Ocean oil drilling for 2014 is good news for the environment. Now if only the oil companies — and the Obama administration — would give up altogether on the idea of drilling in such a remote and harsh place.

Yes, there are arguments for ramping up domestic oil production to reduce our dependency on foreign oil, but the bigger issue is our dependence on oil, period. It’s mind-boggling that we talk about trying to reduce global warming caused by burning fossil fuels while at the same time pursuing policies that will bring us more fossil fuels to burn, and at a cheaper price. It’s like a heroin addict saying, “Yeah, I’ll get clean, someday.”

The Arctic drilling is doubly problematic because of the harsh conditions. The oil companies assure us that they are taking proper safeguards, they have the technology, they are conscientious stewards of the land, etc. But in July 2012, Shell couldn’t control its drilling rig, Discoverer, and it took the arrival of local tugboats to keep the platform from washing ashore. Earlier, the Challenger ice barge, designed to handle any spills in the frozen north, failed Coast Guard inspections and was forced to remain in port in Washington state until the problems were resolved. And at the end of the 2013 drilling season, the Kulluk drilling barge broke loose while under tow and ran aground off Kodiak.


When you can’t even get your equipment in place, you don’t exactly instill public confidence in your ability to drill safely.

Shell announced Thursday that it was scrapping plans to drill this year after a Jan. 22 ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the government violated the law when it opened the Arctic to drilling in the first place. Though the decision doesn’t preclude Shell and other oil companies from ultimately drilling on leases they bought from the federal government, maybe the court’s ruling will lead the Obama administration to revisit its head-scratching conclusion that such efforts are safe.


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Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle