Shell’s spectacular series of mishaps in Alaska has definitely not been going down unnoticed in the oil industry. The Norwegian state-owned oil company Statoil is slowing down plans to drill for oil in US Arctic waters after Shell’s head-on experiences with the brutal realities of the Arctic. This is good news for the Arctic environment and it is good news from Statoil, but it is far from good enough.
For those of us who have been following these developments on a daily basis, watching Shell’s farce has been like watching a snowflake turn into an avalanche. There are too many incidents to list here, but I’ll touch on a few.
In September last year, the French oil company Total, admittedly, took a lot of people by surprise when it said the only reasonable thing to say about oil drilling in the Arctic when you are an oil company: drilling in the unique and environmentally sensitive area poses a risk to great to ignore.
Over at Shell, the warning was snubbed even though its Arctic exploratory drillings in Alaska had suffered a massive blow just a little more than a week before when a vital piece of safety equipment was “crushed like a beer can.” Then, while towing one of the rigs back to Seattle in the US, Shell lost control and on New Year’s Day, the Kulluk beached on an island in the Gulf of Alaska.
After that, one would expect Shell to heed the warning from Total and so many others. But on January 31 in London, Shell CEO Peter Voser had the nerve to state that, “the Arctic is made for a company like Shell.” They say, “pride goes before the fall” but in Shell’s case, after the fall the pride and arrogance went on. But then, nearly two weeks ago, much-welcomed news emerged from the oil giant. In the middle of a US Department of Interior investigation, Shell hit pause on its Arctic drilling plans until at least 2014.
And here we are with the news that Statoil too is pushing the pause button on its plans for Alaska. Now, you might expect that Statoil, the Norwegian state-owned oil company, is doing this because the government of Norway has an environmental reputation to protect. And you might think that the break goes for all Arctic drillings plans and not just in territorial waters where costly regulations are enforced by authorities.
Here I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. Not only is Statoil planning to drill in the Norwegian part of the Arctic this year, it’s also moving into the Russian part of the Arctic Ocean in cooperation with the Russian state-owned company Rosneft. The Russian oil company is a world-champion in onshore Arctic oil spills, contributing to the destruction of lives of thousand of people and devastating the environment of a whole region.
For me there is no excuse for what the Russian government is allowing its oil industry to do. More than 10,000 oil spills happen in Russia every year, with more than 500,000 tones of oil ending up in the Arctic Ocean. So even though Statoil is shelving some of its drilling plans, it’s hard to believe that Norway has the best interests of the Arctic at heart, when it allows its state-owned company to partner up with a dirty Russian oil industry in the icy Arctic Ocean.
Truls Gulowsen is the Program Manager for Greenpeace in Norway. You can join the campaign to save the Arctic here.