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For Immediate Release, February 3, 2011

Contact: Brendan Cummings, (951) 768-8301

Shell Halts Plans to Drill in Heart of Polar Bear's Alaska Habitat
Interior Needs to Make Short-term Reprieve Permanent, Safeguard Arctic

ANCHORAGE, AlaskaPolar bears and other imperiled Arctic species got a reprieve today with Royal Dutch Shell’s announcement that it will not go forward with plans this summer to drill in critical habitat for the polar bear in Alaska. Shell’s drilling plans off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have long been opposed by conservationists and native communities along the Alaska coast.

“The polar bear and other wildlife of Alaska’s Arctic, as well as the local communities that depend upon a healthy ocean, were granted a well-deserved reprieve today,” said Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now, the Department of the Interior needs to turn that short-term reprieve into permanent protection of America’s Arctic.”

Today’s announcement marks the third time that Shell’s plans to drill in the Beaufort Sea have been put on hold in recent years. Drilling in 2007 and subsequent years was stopped by a federal court, which overturned the Interior Department’s approval of Shell’s exploration plan due to poor environmental review. Plans to drill in 2010 were suspended by Interior following the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Shell’s 2011 plan were put in doubt by an Environmental Protection Agency appeals-board decision overturning a necessary air permit, as well as the recent designation of polar bear critical habitat in the drilling area.

Oil development in the Arctic remains a dangerous proposition because no technologies exist to clean up oil spills in icy waters. 

“Rather than revisiting the decision year after year on whether Shell and others can drill in the Arctic, the Department of the Interior needs to acknowledge the reality that it is impossible to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic, and simply pull this region off the table permanently for oil development,” said Cummings.

Shell also has plans to drill in the adjacent Chukchi Sea next year. The Chukchi is also critical habitat for polar bears, as well as home to the Pacific walrus. Interior is scheduled to announce in the coming days whether walrus should also be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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