The U.S. Arctic is an extremely unique and fragile environment. It’s also home to unique species such as beluga and bowhead whales, walruses, polar bears and various sea birds. In fact, this ecosystem is so fascinating and mysterious we still don’t fully understand how an increase in industrial activity — like say, from oil and gas companies — would affect it.
Yet the U.S. Department of the Interior is considering leasing more of the Arctic to the oil and gas industries, which would add to the 3.8 million acres already leased. The Department of the Interior recently initiated some positive reforms in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) offshore drilling program, but before we can, in good conscience, allow more oil and gas activity to permeate the Arctic landscape, several steps must be taken to ensure this will be a safe and ecologically responsible process:
– We need integrated research and monitoring plans to help us understand the Arctic marine ecosystem, especially as it changes with the warming climate.
– We need to identify areas considered biologically important or necessary for subsistence and exclude them from lease consideration.
– We need technology to clean oil spilled in broken ice, which needs to be tested and proven to work in U.S. Arctic Ocean conditions.
This last requirement is especially vital because a recent spill in Norway showed us that even a small amount of oil in broken ice is extremely challenging to clean up. The fear is that, because of certain characteristics of the Arctic OCS — like its remote locations, heavy fog, seasonal darkness, subzero temperatures and rough, choppy waters — an oil spill here would be virtually impossible to clean and an already stressed ecosystem would be permanently devastated.
So far, none of these requirements to validate the responsibility of leasing more of the U.S. Arctic to oil and gas activity have been met. Until they are, we can’t let the Department of the Interior risk this precious ecosystem and habitat of Arctic wildlife.
It’s not too late to stop the irresponsible development of oil and gas activity in the Arctic. Sign the petition asking U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar not to offer any new leases to oil and gas companies in the U.S. Arctic Ocean.
Photo courtesy of the Pew Environment Group