America’s Arctic Ocean and surrounding coasts are unique and important. For thousands of years, America’s Arctic has been home to vibrant communities that depend on healthy, functioning ecosystems to support their subsistence way of life. The Arctic’s Chukchi and Beaufort Seas provide vital habitat for many of our nation’s most iconic wildlife species—polar bears, walrus, ice seals, bowhead whales, beluga whales, eiders and more.
Today, this national treasure is in peril as large, multinational corporations push to drill for oil in the Arctic’s remote and undeveloped seas. Despite an acknowledged lack of basic scientific information and the inability to respond to or clean up a spill, the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies are considering approvals for exploration drilling on Arctic Ocean leases sold by the Bush administration. As a coalition, we oppose these specific plans because they are not based on sound science or preparedness and do not comply with the applicable laws or regulations. For those same reasons, the federal government should not approve them.
There is a lack of basic scientific information about the Arctic Ocean. We do know that America’s Arctic Ocean is an integral part of life in Arctic coastal communities; that it supports iconic wildlife species; that it helps regulate the planet’s weather and climate; and that it is changing rapidly. However, scientists know very little about how the Arctic Ocean functions or the ways in which this fragile marine ecosystem might respond to industrial activities. There is significant missing information about even the most basic parameters for every one of the largest and most conspicuous animals in this ecosystem—including all fish, marine mammals, and birds—which are typically the most studied animals in an ecosystem.
A major oil spill in the Arctic Ocean would be impossible to clean up and could have enormous consequences for the region’s communities and ecosystems. During the winter months, the Arctic seas are covered with ice and are not navigable by oil spill response ships. If a spill started as winter ice sets in, the oil could continue to gush into the sea and under the ice for eight long months. Cleanup in the Arctic would be hampered by sea ice, extreme cold, hurricane-strength storms and pervasive fog. The nearest Coast Guard facilities are nearly 1,000 miles away, and there is no port in the Arctic capable of serving large response vessels.
Until issues such as the lack of science and the inability to clean up an oil spill in Arctic waters are addressed, the federal government cannot make informed decisions about drilling in the Arctic’s Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and should not approve drilling plans.