- Date: April 18, 2011
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico April 2010 was a disaster for the people and wildlife in the Gulf region. It, too, was a reminder of the negative impact offshore oil and gas drilling could have on the people and wildlife of America’s Arctic. The impact there could be even more severe than it was in the Gulf. Frigid temperatures, powerful ice, months of perpetual winter darkness and the remoteness of the Arctic would make it challenging – and perhaps impossible – to stop or clean up an oil spill there.
The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe inspired action at the federal level. In January, the President’s National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling issued recommendations to address the “serious concerns” related to drilling in the Arctic. The recommendations are geared toward creating a rational, science-based and transparent decision-making process.
The Arctic’s wildlife is at risk if the recommendations are not implemented. The region is home to 20 percent of the world’s polar bears, as well as endangered whales, walruses and seals. These species are already threatened by climate change. A rush to drill in the Arctic could prove disastrous to the survival of these and other Arctic species and could cause staggering damage to their fragile habitats.
We cannot afford to lose momentum. With high gas prices and instability in Africa and the Middle East, pressure to open up the Arctic for offshore drilling is intense. This is evident in Shell Oil’s proposal for offshore drilling in the Arctic (specifically, Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas) in 2012 and 2013. It is the most aggressive plan ever presented for this region: six wells in 2012 and six more in 2013.
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