Oil Change International

Exposing the true costs of fossil fuels

Why the FT is Wrong Over the Arctic

slide_239554_1245203_freeIf the oil giant Shell has learnt anything over the last few weeks, it is that it has few friends in its quest to drill in the Arctic.

The company has been hit by a wave of protests from Seattle, where its drilling rig the Arctic Pioneer is located, to its AGM in the Hague.

Barely a day goes past without yet another protest against the company’s ill-judged and belligerent quest to drill in the US Arctic.

So the company’s top brass will have been mightily relieved to read the Financial Times this morning. In an editorial, the business paper writes that the “US is right to allow Arctic oil drilling”.

The paper picks apart the two main arguments against Arctic drilling: namely climate change and the safety angle.

It concludes that: As long as Shell is “able to keep its promises about safety … anyone who accepts that the world will need fossil fuels for decades to come ought to be prepared to accept Shell’s plans”.

In coming to this conclusion, the paper shows a worrying naïve understanding of the science behind climate change as well as the inherent risks of Arctic drilling. On the latter, it argues that “an oil spill would be more difficult to clean up in the Arctic than in the Gulf of Mexico”.

Whilst this is stating the obvious, it also totally ignores the simple fact that an oil spill in the Arctic would not be more difficult to clean up but impossible to clean up too.

But it is on climate change that the paper’s argument is probably most flawed. “Even in a world where carbon dioxide emissions are constrained, the world will still need oil”, it writes.

Indeed, the subheading for the editorial is “the world may one day need the crude that Shell might find there.” Note the words “may” and “might” – simple words that hide uncertainty. By this analysis, we should just carry on drilling in case we may one day need the oil in future. Whilst this argument is based on uncertainty, we know for certain that we cannot burn all the fossil fuel reserves we currently have.

The FT – and Shell of course – are ignoring the fact that, as my colleague Hannah Mckinnon recently pointed out: “well over 75% of the oil, coal and gas we already have access to will have to remain in the ground in order to have a decent chance at avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.”

There is an inherent disconnect at the heart of Shell – arguing that it wants action on climate change, but at the same time as refusing to change it own business practices.

Indeed in the very same paper, Shell – along with other leading oil and gas companies such as BP and Total – has written a letter arguing that “we are united in our concern about the challenge – and the threat – posed by climate change.”

If Shell was serious about the challenge of climate change it would not be drilling in the Arctic, and would be disinvesting out of fossil fuels.

And if the Financial Times understood the issues of climate change in any meaningful way, it would be writing an editorial demanding that Shell did so too.

 

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