As the Obama Administration moves to open up Arctic waters for exploratory offshore oil and gas drilling, a raising tide of opposition is emerging to counter the decision.
In the last two weeks, dozens of members of Congress, hundreds of scientists, and tens of thousands of concerned citizens have expressed their concerns about the environmental impact of drilling in Arctic waters.
In an open letter signed yesterday by 60 members of Congress, federal lawmakers called on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to halt all leases for the Arctic in the agency’s five-year plan until a more sound review of disaster-response capabilities can be conducted:
“Successful oil spill response methods … cannot simply be transferred to the Arctic. The Arctic is a unique environment with significant hurdles that the DOI and related agencies must genuinely address before considering any new leasing in the region prior to including Arctic areas in a five-year plan.”
This follows a months-long investigation into disaster preparation in the Arctic by the Center for American Progress oceans team, which found a complete lack of infrastructure to deal with an oil spill:
There are no U.S. Coast Guard stations north of the Arctic Circle, and we currently operate just one functional icebreaking vessel. Alaska’s tiny ports and airports are incapable of supporting an extensive and sustained airlift effort. The region even lacks such basics as paved roads and railroads. This dearth of infrastructure would severely hamper the ability to transport the supplies and personnel required for any large-scale emergency response effort. Furthermore, the extreme and unpredictable weather conditions complicate transportation, preparedness, and cleanup of spilled oil to an even greater degree.
Just two weeks before, 573 scientists sent a letter to the White House urging the Obama Administration to take a science-based approach to issuing leases in the Arctic and to avoid opening up the region because of political pressure to expand drilling:
“Doing so prior to authorizing new oil and gas activity in the Arctic Ocean will respect the national significance of the environment and cultures of U.S. Arctic waters and demonstrate the value that your Administration places on having a sound scientific basis for managing industrial development of the Outer Continental Shelf.”
If one were to follow these concerns about taking a science-based approach to their logical conclusion, it’s highly unlikely that anyone would consider drilling for more fossil fuels in the Arctic. In its environmental impact statement, the Department of Interior even admits that “the Arctic is experiencing variations that are accelerating faster than previously realized” due to climate change — ironically making the region more attractive for oil and gas extraction as sea ice continues its downward spiral.
Apparently, the plan isn’t sitting well with many interested citizens either. Today was the final deadline for public comments, and almost 400,000 people have asked President Obama to stop the sales of leases in the Department of Interior’s five-year plan, according to the Alaska Wilderness League.
The Obama Administration is set to approve exploratory Arctic drilling permits to Royal Dutch Shell for operations next summer — a company that recently spilled 218 tons of oil in the North Sea and has the worst spill record in the UK since 2000.