For years the oil and gas industry has been pushing to open the Arctic Ocean to development despite the Arctic’s harsh and remote conditions. Sub-zero temperatures, long periods of darkness, shifting ice floes and hurricane-force winds make industrial activities particularly risky. The Arctic Ocean is already suffering some of the effects of climate change. According to the National Climate Assessment, “Alaska has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the nation, bringing widespread impacts. Sea ice is rapidly receding.”
So what are the impacts if offshore drilling moves forward in the Arctic?
Large Oil Spills Would Be Likely:
- The government estimates a 75% chance of a large oil spill if current Chukchi Sea leases are developed. Letting large oil companies lease more of the Arctic Ocean increases this chance. In addition, if there was a spill, none of the three primary oil spill response methods – mechanical containment and recovery, in situ burning, or dispersants – have been proven effective in Arctic conditions.
Subsistence Could Be Impacted:
- On top of the impacts of a potential large oil spill, oil extraction activity could change whale and walrus migration routes. The Chukchi serves as a migration corridor and important area for bowhead whales and thousands of spotted seals, as well as a key location where walrus come ashore to rest or “haul out.” The Beaufort Sea serves as a migration corridor for whales as well.
A Changing Arctic Climate:
- Our Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. If we want to pass along a healthy Alaska to future generations, we need to act responsibly today.