alaska natives sue federal government for approving shell’s insufficient clean-up plan for a potential oil spill in the arctic ocean

Ten environmental groups, including a network of grassroots Alaska Natives, filed a lawsuit yesterday to protect native communities, endangered wildlife, and the Arctic Ocean in the event of a major oil spill. Shell plans to drill exploratory wells there this summer, specifically in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. According to the complaint,

Alaska Native communities have been vitally connected to the Chukchi and Beaufort seas and their resources for thousands of years. Subsistence hunting and fishing is central to the cultural traditions of these communities and is based predominantly upon bowhead whales, walrus, seals, beluga whales, polar bears, birds, and fish. An oil spill in the Chukchi or Beaufort seas could compromise the subsistence way of life communities throughout the North Slope have practiced for thousands of years.

After the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez spills, less than 10 percent of the millions of gallons of spilled oil was recovered. Conditions in the Arctic – including sea ice, darkness, and wind – may preclude even that grossly inadequate level of cleanup if there’s a spill. To paraphrase the press release announcing the lawsuit, the future of the Arctic Ocean should not be put at risk due to hollow promises by Shell or the federal government that nothing will go wrong, especially when history suggests otherwise.