As Shell Oil’s drill ships headed north and prepared in mid-June to begin drilling in the Polar Bear Seas, Americans from all walks of life were sending a strong and clear message to President Obama: Protect America’s Arctic! The Polar Bear Seas (in the Arctic Ocean) are an amazing wild place, home to the entire population of U.S. polar bears, as well as ice seals, whales, and migratory birds. An oil spill here would be disastrous—to the wildlife and to the several Alaska Native communities that have lived in the area for thousands of years and depend on the sea’s plentiful bounty for subsistence.
The BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico provides an ongoing illustration of the long-term impacts of a big spill. An event like that in the Beaufort or Chukchi Sea off the northern coast of Alaska—the Polar Bear Seas—would be devastating. An oil spill would harm the fragile wildlife in the ocean and onshore, impacting polar bears, endangered beluga whales, migratory birds that fly to the Arctic from all 50 states, and other wildlife. The oil industry’s track record belies its frequent and fervent assurances of safety. There is no proven way to clean up an oil spill in the extreme Arctic conditions—it’s as simple as that. The thick sea ice, which for a significant part of the year is broken up and unstable—a heaving, shifting mass impeding any sea- based ship maneuvers–is an incredible obstacle. Add to this darkness for two months every winter and a lack of infrastructure and people to support a clean-up effort: the closest U.S. Coast Guard station is a thousand miles away. Shell Oil has no business drilling in the Arctic!
Shell is scheduled to start drilling in the Arctic Ocean by the middle of July, or as soon as the ice allows. Act now–tell President Obama to safeguard the wildlife and the human communities of our fragile northern Arctic coast from dangerous dirty oil drilling— say “no” to Shell now. No drilling in the Polar Bear Seas this summer! Please call the White House comment line (9 am – 5 pm Eastern time) at (202)456-1111.
adapted from Sierra Borealis, the Alaska Report of the Sierra Club’s Alaska Chapter.