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The impact of drilling for oil in polar region

In January 2008, Chris Seidler of Spiegel magazine reported from a conference in Norway dealing with issues of gas and oil production in the Arctic ocean.
Among several hundred scientists from the US and other nations that border the polar region, John Calder, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Arctic Research division director, sounded serious warnings. All the nations involved “are working overtime” to exploit their oil reserves in the Arctic, he said, even though grave potential dangers have not been addressed.
Oil spills are especially dangerous there, since Arctic ecosystems take a long time to recover and cleanup in its remote regions and cold waters is exceptionally difficult.
The research headed by NOAA had taken four years to complete. What the scientists found had led them to state several dozen action and policy recommendations to improve safety in Arctic oil and gas operations. These recommendations, however, had “disappeared” from the final report when submitted to the Arctic Council, which had commissioned the study.
A month later, in February 2008, the US Interior Department leased for Arctic oil drilling 2.7 million acres in the Chukchi Sea, the Shell Oil Company planning operations to begin in Summer 2010.
On July 21, a federal District Court in Alaska ruled otherwise, holding in abeyance the implementation of the lease sale. When it granted the sale, the Court found, the Minerals Management Service failed to perform a proper analysis of environmental impacts.
Pertinent scientific information, available but not reviewed at the time, should now be analyzed, possible impacts of oil activities on the region’s wildlife and Native communities disclosed and their mitigation addressed, before the sale can be reconsidered and drilling begin.
In May, while millions of gallons of oil were daily gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama announced a temporary halt to further oil-drilling approvals in the Arctic.
As Dr. Calder had warned, drilling there is far more risky and dangerous than it is in warmer regions.
No technology exists to effectively collect, clean up, disperse, have bacteria consume it, or otherwise remove oil in icy waters. Should a blow-out spill happen late in the year, fall freeze-up could even make attempts at well-capping impossible, for many months.
Beyond the extremely harsh weather conditions, roads and harbors, Coast-Guard stations and other infrastructure to mount the kind of spill response as in the Gulf is lacking in the Arctic.
The recent oil disaster, coupled with the Alaska Court’s insistence on both thorough knowledge of its consequences before drilling, and on demonstration of effective response to accidents should encourage the President to resist pressures toward speedy resumption of oil and gas operations in the Arctic.
Rather than allowing their voices to be suppressed and recommendations to “disappear,” as too often the case in the previous administration, he should listen to the government’s scientists, even erring on the side of caution if need be.