4 Unnerving Reasons Shell Stopping Drilling In The Alaskan Arctic Doesn't Make It Environmentally Friendly

Much to environmentalists' delight, Shell will stop its exploratory drilling in the Alaskan Arctic "for the foreseeable future." But the move isn't being made to help preserve the environment. Although the company found signs of oil and gas in its Burger J well in the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan shore, it suggested in a press release that this just wasn't enough to continue pouring money into the operation. In its own words, Shell stopped drilling in the Arctic because it wasn't going to be very profitable, and the company isn't totally ruling out Arctic drilling in the future. But regardless of this positive development, Shell simply isn't environmentally friendly — and the reasons for this go further than the fact that it's a part of the highly destructive oil industry.

Shell, for its part, said in its 2014 sustainability report: "Shell works to help meet the world’s growing demand for energy in a responsible way. This means operating safely, reducing our impact on the environment and sharing benefits with the communities who are our neighbours."

In a press release about the decision to stop drilling in the Arctic, Shell explained its reasoning: "This decision reflects both the Burger J well result, the high costs associated with the project, and the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska."

Shell spent more than $7 billion on its Alaskan Arctic drilling project, and decreasing oil prices worldwide only made the exploratory venture more financially risky. The company's press release noted that it will continue to safely demobilize workers and equipment from the area, but did not specify when Shell would be entirely out of the Chukchi Sea.

Regardless of the reasoning, environmentalists are thrilled that the Arctic drilling is stopping for now. Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace, told The New York Times: "This is a victory for everyone who has stood up for the Arctic. There is no better time to keep fossil fuels in the ground, bringing us one step closer to an energy revolution and sustainable future."

Despite the fact that abandoning its efforts to drill off Alaska's shore will be positive, Shell has not historically been a friend to the environment.

Lots Of Oil Spills

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Certainly, every oil company is prone to spills, but that doesn't make it any more acceptable. In 2014 alone, Shell had 153 operational oil spills globally (spills that happened during drilling, not ones caused by people breaking onto oil rigs). It's a slight decrease from the 174 in 2013, but is still not great. For its part, Shell's 2014 sustainability report said: "Shell has clear requirements and procedures to prevent operational spills. We have ongoing programmes in place to maintain and improve our facilities and pipelines. However, spills still occur for reasons such as operational failure, accidents or unusual corrosion."

Spilled oil not only dirties water, but also endangers all the plant and animal life in the area by killing creatures, disrupting food chains and destroying natural habitats.

Slow Cleanups

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In 2008, there were two oil spills from Shell operations in Nigeria that left a community in the Niger Delta destroyed, and the company only just agreed to start cleaning up the spills this past May — seven years later. A local fisherman told The Guardian that the same company cleaning up the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico would be tackling the Nigerian spill. After a three-year legal fight, Shell's Nigerian branch agreed in January to pay 55 million pounds (or $84 million) to the more than 15,000 people affected in Bodo.

In a January press release, Shell said: "We are fully committed to the clean-up process being overseen by the former Netherlands’ Ambassador to Nigeria. Despite delays caused by divisions within the community, we are pleased that clean-up work will soon begin now that a plan has been agreed with the community." Although Shell is taking responsibility for the devastating effects of the oil spills, it took entirely too long to get anything done, and the spilled oil has basically been sitting in the Niger Delta for seven years.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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Not only does Shell contribute to the huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles across the world, but the company's facilities also release millions of tons of harmful gases each year. In 2014, Shell's carbon dioxide emissions rose to 76 million tons from 73 million tons in 2013. Shell advocates for the use of more natural gas and the development of carbon capture and storage technology to help reduce global carbon dioxide emissions, and the company's website says: "Demand for energy is growing incredibly fast. Meeting it while limiting CO2 emissions is a global challenge."

The company's website attributed the rise in emissions to the reopening of a processing facility in Iraq and an increase in production at a Qatar plant, but regardless of the reasons, a rise in carbon dioxide emissions indicates the opposite of environmentally-friendly business practices.

Refineries In Vulnerable Countries

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Shell, like its competitors, owns or partially owns 24 oil refineries around the world. This includes refineries in small island countrieslike the Philippines and Singapore — that are already extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Sea level rise is one of the major consequences of climate change, and small islands are the first nations to be drastically affected by rising water, since they're surrounded by it.

It should be noted that Shell in Singapore's website says: "Environmental care and responsibility are also key elements of Shell’s commitment to sustainable development. Shell fulfills this by supporting community projects as well as in the way it conducts its activities and operations."

However, operating big environmentally-hazardous oil refineries in these countries can only worsen the problem, as they emit a wide variety of harmful pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and greenhouse gases.