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Nithin Coca headshot

Victory in the Arctic: Obama Cancels Lease Sales


A few months ago, it seemed inevitable that this would be the year the world's most pristine oceans were damaged by drilling. Today, after a massive, months-long grassroots and social media mobilization, the Arctic will be preserved, from now to the foreseeable future.

That is right. President Barack Obama just canceled leases for Arctic drilling for the next two years, after Shell announced it would give up exploring for oil in its lease a few weeks ago.

“In light of Shell’s announcement, the amount of acreage already under lease and current market conditions, it does not make sense to prepare for lease sales in the Arctic in the next year and a half,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement Friday.

Arctic drilling is officially done. Environmental organizations hailed this as a major victory for the planet.

“The 'kayaktivists' and 'Shell no' movement showed that people-power can and will continue to overcome Big Oil. President Obama and Secretary Jewell’s decision should be lauded, as we continue to work towards protecting our wild places,” Sierra Club's executive director, Michael Brune, said in a statement.

This means the Arctic's fragile flora and fauna will not face the near-certainty of an oil spill, as the U.S. government's own projections forecast if drilling went ahead.

“Any spill in the Arctic would have devastating consequences for the region's fragile wildlife and ecosystems, and there is no technology in existence that could clean up a spill in the area's broken sea ice and frigid waters,” said Defenders of Wildlife executive vice president, Jamie Rappaport Clark.

This victory couldn't have happened without public support, and that is why Greenpeace – whose dramatic, rig-blocking kayak protest in Seattle and bridge-dangling in Portland helped raise awareness of Shell's intentions – pointed the cause at people-power.

“It's a huge victory for the millions of people who stood up against Shell and a disaster for other oil companies with interests in the region,” said Greenpeace International executive director, Kumi Naidoo, in a statement. “Shell has gambled big and lost big, both in terms of financial cost and its public reputation.”

Let us enjoy this, as this is good news for several reasons. Firstly, for global climate. Scientists say we need to keep at least 80 percent of all fossil fuels in the earth in order to avoid the worst of climate change. Not drilling in the Arctic will help us reach this figure – though now we need to keep the momentum up to ensure that more fossil fuels around the world are kept in the ground.

For the oil giant, this will end up being, as Naidoo noted, a massive, multibillion-dollar loss that will inhibit Shell's, and others, ability to explore for oil in the future. Other big oil companies should take note – it is no longer profitable to drill for oil. A global movement will oppose you at every turn and hold you accountable for your actions. And now, we know, no matter how many billions you throw at drilling and public relations, we can win.

The better business case? Clean energy. Clearer, and cleaner, than ever.

Image Source: Pixabay

Nithin Coca headshotNithin Coca

Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

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