Well, we’re a little late for the public comment period, but we’ll bring you the news anyway: The Obama administration is thinking about opening up the Arctic ocean to oil and gas drilling.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans have weighed in on the question to be decided by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, according to Mary Tipton of KTUU radio in Juneau.
As with the Pebble Mine we discussed today over at Western Exposure, opponents are fearful of what this will mean for Arctic fisheries. Alaska provides the largest share of Americans’ domestic-caught seafood. Alaska’s pollock catch alone is by far the single largest catch in the country.
They make the point that the Arctic is already under tremendous environmental stress from climate change, which is proceeding more quickly at the poles than in the middle latitudes. In fact, the decision facing Salazar now until a few years ago was not a question. There was too much ice to make drilling feasible.
Now, though, the Arctic ice is melting away reliably enough to make oil companies eye the resources under the sea floor eagerly.
Add on top of climate change the advent of regular ship traffic through the Arctic, and it’s a doozy for the animals used to millennia of one environment that are suddenly facing something quite different. Here’s how uber-conservation biologist Gordon Orians of the University of Washington put it in a press release from the Seattle-based U.S. Arctic Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts:
We don’t know enough yet about how iconic mammals like the bowhead whales, walrus and polar bears would be affected by the noise, pollution, and traffic related to widespread offshore oil and gas drilling. Doing appropriate research before making decisions about such development will help protect these special Arctic species for future generations.
He was among some 400 scientists who signed a letter urging President Obama to reject the expanded drilling, which previously was approved by the Bush administration.
Not to worry, says Marilyn Crockett, executive director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, adding that one-third of the nation’s oil is off the Alaskan coast:
We are very confident that our operations are conducted safely and can protect the environment and can make a major contribution not only to the state of Alaska but to the nation as well. … Clearly the resources that Alaska can provide to the nation will go a long way to increasing our energy security.
— Robert McClure