The Dangers of Oil Drilling In the Arctic Ocean

January 6, 2013 in Environment by Gina-Marie Cheeseman

5963506912_191fa22a4eThe Natural Resources Defense Council and The Wilderness Society are demanding that Obama stop all current and future approvals for offshore oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean. The environmental groups cite Shell’s “long string of accidents and mistakes.” One of those accidents occurred last week. Shell lost control of one of its oil rigs this week which carried over 150,000 gallons of petroleum products. The oil rig ended up an island off the Alaska coast.

“The risks are too big to get this wrong – especially in one of the most fragile places on the planet,” said Chuck Clusen, NRDC’s director of national parks and Alaska projects. Clusen added, “And, as we’ve learned this week from the grounding of the Kulluk, the risks of exploration extend all up and down the fragile Pacific coastline from Seattle to the top of the world.”

“The implications of this very troubling incident are clear – the oil industry is no match for Alaska’s weather and sea conditions either during drilling operations or during marine transit,” Lois Epstein, PE, Arctic Program Director for The Wilderness Society, said on the press conference call.

An NRDC report on offshore drilling off Alaska’s north slope found that drilling and related activity “would create an unacceptable risk of irreparable damage to this unique part of the planet and should be postponed until comprehensive research can be performed and a credible system for responding to spills is put into place.”

The report lists eight reasons to halt offshore drilling in Arctic Ocean off Alaska’s northern coast:

  • The oil industry has a long history of spills on the North Slope
  • Cleaning up oil spills in the Arctic Ocean would present immense challenges.
  • The Arctic Coast is unique.
  • Too little is known about Arctic ecosystems to predict response to spills.
  • Shell’s offshore oil and gas activities threaten vulnerable wildlife.
  • Damage to wildlife and the ecosystem undermine Inupiat quality of living and culture.
  • The region is already compromised by climate change.
  • Arctic drilling will create more greenhouse gases (both through production and the eventual use of hydrocarbons) at a time when we are trying to reduce such emissions.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last year said regulation of offshore drilling poses “challenges” for federal officials. “Even with Shell’s plans to have dedicated capping stack and well containment capabilities in the region to provide rapid response in the event of a blowout, these dedicated capabilities do not completely mitigate some of the environmental and logistical risks associated with the remoteness and environment of the region,” the report states.

A 2010 report on Arctic drilling by Pew Environment Group examined the risks, challenges and potential consequences of oil spills associated with offshore exploration and production in the outer continental shelf of the U.S. Arctic Ocean. The report found that the Arctic Ocean’s remote location, extreme climate and dynamic sea ice “exacerbate the risks and consequences of oil spills while complicating cleanup.”

Three environmental organizations have petitions asking the Obama administration to suspend Shell’s Arctic drilling permits:

Sign the petitions, and let the Obama administration know that drilling in the Arctic Ocean poses too many environmental risks.

Photo: Flickr user, dnak

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