Shell Oil Leaving the Arctic Is Worth Celebrating, But Our Work Is Not Finished, and This Movement Will Continue Until the Arctic and Our Climate Are Permanently Protected.

Article: Dan Ritzman

As my family’s weekend was winding down on September 27, I looked at my phone to see some amazing news: Shell was abandoning its plans to drill in the Arctic. This only seemed possible in dreams just a few days ago. President Obama had given Shell the green light to begin drilling in the Arctic in June, putting this delicate ecosystem and the world’s climate at risk. President Obama gave approval despite hundreds of thousands of Americans screaming for him to stop this reckless drilling, as well as warnings from his own advisers that any drilling in the Arctic carries a 75 percent risk of a major oil spill and a 100 percent chance of furthering climate disruption.

Ever since Shell received the go-ahead to drill, people have been mobilizing across the country to demand that the Arctic remain protected-especially from the extraction of dirty fuels. In mid-May, “kayaktivists” became a household name when nearly one thousand people gathered in Seattle—on land and in the harbor —to protest Shell. Hundreds of people in kayaks surrounded Shell’s rig with homemade signs demanding that the president say “Shell No” to drilling in the Arctic. This event wasn’t the first of the movement, but it did capture the country’s attention of what is at risk. After Seattle, hundreds of thousands of people began to take action, from calling the White House to submitting letters to the editor at their local newspapers to joining in rallies across the country.

Unfortunately, President Obama did not listen to their calls. As Shell was assembling its fleet of ships in the Arctic, it put a three-foot gash into the side of the icebreaker Fennica, forcing the ship to head to Portland, Oregon, for repairs. Then, the activists kicked into gear. Twenty-six activists suspended themselves from the St. Johns Bridge, and hundreds more in kayaks gathered below to block Shell’s icebreaker from leaving the port, holding the company’s drilling plans at bay. The protest captured the country’s attention as people saw what was at risk.

Eventually, the Fennica departed for the Arctic and Shell was set to start drilling, but the movement was only beginning. This movement played a key role in Shell’s abandonment of Arctic drilling for the foreseeable future. Shell’s announcement led to much rejoicing, and while we should all celebrate that the Arctic will not be destroyed from drilling in the near future, our work is not finished. If we do not act to protect the Arctic and leave dirty fuels in the ground both there and throughout the world, the region will continue to melt at a precipitous rate, harming the world community as a whole. That’s why President Obama must cancel all existing and future drilling leases in the Arctic and permanently protect this refuge from the dangers of drilling.

Dan Ritzman is the senior campaign manager of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America program. As this issue went to press, President Obama took the first step to fully protecting America’s Arctic Ocean by canceling the lease sales that were set for 2016 and 2017.
TOP PHOTO: Marcus Donner/Greenpeace | BOTTOM PHOTO: Steve Dipaola/Greenpeace

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