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After Shell Pulls Out Of The Arctic, Here’s What’s Next For Anti-Drilling Activists

The ultimate goal is to keep the oil in the ground.

After Shell Pulls Out Of The Arctic, Here’s What’s Next For Anti-Drilling Activists
[Top Photo: Karen Ducey/Getty Images]

After sinking around $7 billion into oil exploration in the Arctic and coming up dry, Royal Dutch Shell abruptly decided to give up “for the foreseeable future.”

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For activists in the #ShellNo movement–including “kayakivists” in Portland and Seattle who faced off Arctic drilling rigs in tiny kayaks–the announcement was a huge win.

The reaction was “jubilation, followed by good riddance,” says Steve Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, a Washington, DC-based organization involved in the movement.

Flickr user Backbone Campaign

“We have to take a very clear stance that this is over the line that you need in a climate safe scenario,” he says. “There’s lots of analysis that shows that.” Research published in January showed that in order to prevent catastrophic climate change, most existing oil reserves can’t be used–let alone new ones.

Earlier this year, Shell’s Arctic division head said that it will likely be 25 years before they, or anyone else, tries again. Still, activists plan to keep fighting. Other companies are still trying to buy leases to drill in the Arctic. Now, there’s a chance to push for permanent protection in the area.

“What we’re seeing–and we also saw this with the Keystone campaign–is governments are not doing the job of regulating the fossil fuel industry with regards to climate change,” says Kretzmann. “Citizen movements come up and fill that gap.”

Shell said the main reason it gave up in the Arctic was the lack of oil, though others have also pointed to low oil prices. The Guardian reported that Shell also privately admitted it was “surprised by the popular opposition it faced.”

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“People made a lot of noise about it,” Kretzmann says. “That is completely indicative of how concerned people are about climate change.”

Shell, like some other oil companies, has talked about the importance of renewable energy–but argues that renewable energy needs to develop along with fossil fuels.

Flickr user Backbone Campaign

“There’s this ongoing problem that on the one hand, people say, we’re concerned about climate change, but we just have to keep drilling for oil here, wherever here is,” Kretzmann says. “And we can’t stop now–we’ll stop later.”

Will Shell ever truly make the shift to renewable energy? Kretzmann’s opinion is no. “It’s a completely different business model,” he says. “The oil industry really isn’t about providing energy for people. It’s about making money.

So Oil Change International–and grassroots organizations including Greenpeace and 350.org that helped organize the kayak protests–plan to keep up the pressure, and push governments to refuse permits and perhaps eventually ban drilling.

“Many governments are still locked into business as usual with the fossil fuel industry,” Kretzmann says. “So until that changes, you’re going to see more and more of these citizen uprisings against these projects.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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