Our guest blogger is Emilie Surrusco, communications director, Alaska Wilderness League.Last week in Anchorage, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) held a joint press briefing with Shell Oil. The topic was Shell’s aggressive plans to drill 10 wells in the Arctic’s Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Sen. Murkowski –- who has taken close to $1.5 million from dirty energy companies over the course of her career — was ostensibly trying to find out if Shell really could clean up a spill in the Arctic’s treacherous and icy conditions. Lo and behold, she concluded that they could:
During questioning by reporters, Murkowski acknowledged she has “long been an advocate for responsible oil and gas development in our state” and that the presentation gave her “more assurances that Shell really is building a response community up in the Arctic.”
This kind of theater is not unusual in a state where oil literally fuels 82 percent of the state’s budget. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t Alaskans who are opposed to drilling in our pristine Arctic Ocean – in fact, those who stand to lose the most, a vocal group of Inupiat people who continue to live off the bounty of Alaska’s Arctic waters in much the same way as generations before them, are the most courageous critics of Alaska’s reliance on oil. It also doesn’t mean that the rest of us don’t have a stake in what happens to a region that is priceless in its beauty and uniqueness – and in the fact that it functions as the world’s air conditioner. As climate change causes Arctic ice to melt at an alarming rate, we can’t afford to hand our Arctic over to oil companies like Shell.
What Murkowski and Shell didn’t say at last week’s press pageantry was that there is no way to effectively clean up a spill in the Arctic’s extreme, remote conditions, as reiterated recently with a comprehensive study by the federal government’s scientific arm. Despite recent technological advances in mechanical recovery for oil spill response, with the Arctic’s extreme weather conditions and broken ice, the amount of oil that could be cleaned up is estimated at a mere 1 to 20 percent, according to the USGS report. Meanwhile, Shell’s oil spill response plan for the Arctic states that the company would be able to clean up 90 percent of the oil in the event of a spill. This from a company that was recently found to own oil rigs in the northern North Sea that caused the majority of 100 potentially lethal spills.
What’s more, Alaska’s Arctic region is so remote – there are no large roads, no hotels, no major airports, no boat docks – that the nearest Coast Guard station — a critical component to any oil spill response — is 1,000 miles away. Even after BP’s disaster in the Gulf, Alaska’s politicians and the oil cheerleaders in Congress continue to push for Arctic drilling. Shell’s plan for the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea could be approved as soon as next month.
That is why a growing coalition of concerned organizations launched a national campaign to protect our one and only Arctic. Over the next year, we will be using a combination of media and grassroots tactics to bring these facts to light. Because once the American public learns that Shell and its cronies in Congress are willing to destroy one of our nation’s greatest natural treasures to further pad their already-bulging pockets, the Obama administration will have no choice but to tell Shell – if you can’t clean up a spill, you can’t drill. We hope you will join us in the Arctic on July 4, 2012 (which also happens to be when Shell hopes to begin drilling) for a celebration of the Alaskan Arctic’s “independence” from Shell.