Oil Companies Look Forward to Global Warming

Monday, May 11, 2009
Northstar Offshore Island, Beaufort Sea

What’s bad for polar bears and walruses is actually quite golden for Shell and other oil companies. While scientists, environmentalists and policymakers fret over the shrinking of the polar icecap, oil executives are planning to take advantage of the expanding open waters around the North Pole to explore undeveloped reserves of petroleum and natural gas. At the rate of the current melt, scientists estimate that the Arctic seas could be essentially free of ice in the summertime by mid-century, opening the way to extract the 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the region, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

During the Bush administration, oil companies began to take the first steps towards laying claims to the fossil fuel bounty in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Shell purchased leases from the Minerals Management Service in the Chukchi Sea in February for $2.1 billion.
Conservation groups and Native communities have challenged the Minerals Management Service’s approval of a permit for Shell to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea. They won a victory last Thursday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which threw out the permit because a judge ruled the federal agency did not sufficiently take into account the environmental impacts of the drilling.
-Noel Brinkerhoff


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