Arctic Chukchi Sea – to drill or not to drill?
I’ll never forget the beauty, the silence and the wonder of stepping out on the frozen Arctic waters of the Chukchi Sea in Barrow, Alaska.
Ice Blog Archive Alaska 2008
Nor will I forget the tales of the Inupiat people of the changes to the ice and the consequences for wildlife, like polar bears and whales.
On the same trip, I visited Prince William Sound. That site of great natural beauty was also the location of the Exxon Valdez disaster, just over 20 years ago. At first sight, you don’t notice that, but underneath some of the rocks you find traces of oil, which takes a long, long time to break down in the cold Arctic waters.
So it’s with some concern that I follow the controversy over plans by Royal Dutch Shell to drill for billions of barrels of oil in the Chukchi Sea this year. The sea lies between Alaska and Siberia and is thought to hold large quantities of oil and gas.
The US authorities conditionally approved the plans to drill three exploratory wells in December 2009. The decision was delayed on the grounds that the area is a prime habitat for polar bears, now recognized by US law as a threatened species.
Now indigenous and conservationist groups are suing to stop the project.
Concern from the Northern Alaska Environmental Centre
The oil industry has a strong position in Alaska. It provides around 40% of the state’s tax revenue and provides a lot of funding for the University of Alaska. Shell says it is working to improve its environmental impact. But the environment lobby is not happy that enough is known about the potential impacts of further drilling and the changes being brought by climate change. With the race to get at the Arctic’s natural resources speeding up as the region warms – more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet – the risk of development without adequate research on environmental impacts seems to me to be increasing all the time.
“Shell comes under attack in Alaska” – in THE GUARDIAN
DateJanuary 27, 2010 | 10:43 am