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March 14, 2012

Shell Game

Royal Dutch Shell, the fifth-largest company in the world, is suing the Sierra Club along with a dozen other environmental organizations on the off chance that we might attempt to do our job. Shell is taking us to court preemptively because we might have the audacity to say that drilling in the Arctic is risky and unsafe. Even though we haven't seen the full plans yet and haven't taken any legal action yet, Shell wants to prevent any possible legal challenges that might delay its plans to drill for oil in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off the coast of Alaska this summer.

In other words, Shell wants a judge to block challenges to its drilling plans that no one's even made yet. The real message to anyone who believes America's Polar Bear Seas just might not be the smartest place to start drilling oil wells: Get out of the way, there's money to be made. Never mind that we're talking about a pristine and ecologically rich home to millions of migratory birds, seals, polar bears, whales, and walruses.

By the way, no need to feel left out if Shell isn't suing you for caring about the Arctic -- you can get in on the action right here. What's Shell going to do -- sue millions of us?

Has it really been less than two years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico? Imagine dealing with an oil spill in the far more remote and extreme environment of the Arctic. Shell has a plan, of course, just like BP did. Based on the oil industry’s track record of carelessness and negligence, the whole world has a right to be skeptical.

At least Shell is upfront about its motives. It's invested big bucks in Arctic leases -- not to mention members of Congress -- and wants to start seeing some payback.

Most proponents of a "drill anywhere and everywhere" policy aren't quite so transparent. Instead, they claim that more drilling can help us achieve energy independence or, at least, lower the price of gas this summer.

Wrong on both counts. With only two percent of the world's oil reserves, the United States could let companies like Shell extract and refine every last drop without having any significant effect on world oil prices (although Big Oil would make a bundle in the process).

Energy independence is achievable, but it's not going to happen so long as we cling to the fantasy that we can drill our way there. Pumping oil from places like the Arctic might buy us a couple of more days or weeks or even months of oil to feed our habit, but in the process we'd also get more air and water pollution, more destruction of our precious coasts and natural areas, and a real risk of runaway climate disruption.

Meanwhile, the real solution to high oil prices is so simple that you can state it in three little words: Use less oil.

The good news is we're already seeing how easy it can be to do exactly that.

Hybrids, EVs, and other fuel-efficient vehicles save consumers money, they save oil, and they may just have saved Detroit. U.S. auto companies are thriving once again because they've been given incentives to innovate. Consumers are responding, domestic auto jobs are growing, and U.S. fuel consumption is down five percent from last year.

But there's more to be done. The Obama administration has proposed vehicle fuel-efficiency standards that will bring average mileage rates to almost 55 miles per gallon, cutting millions of barrels per day in oil consumption. Congress shouldn't watch from the sidelines but should complement this historic effort by cutting all oil industry subsidies and doubling down on clean energy. At the same time, we need to invest aggressively in public transportation and safe walking and biking to ensure we can get to work, go to school, and do our shopping without being held hostage at the gas pump.

Use less oil. Maybe that simple concept is what has spooked Shell and prompted its ridiculous lawsuit. The U.S. is poised to break Big Oil's stranglehold on our economy, our political system, our climate, health, and our national security. Rather than let ourselves be distracted by high gas prices, we should be even more motivated by them to get off oil -- once and for all.

 

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