By Teresa Welsh |
It took five months to kill BP's ruptured oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. Even though it occurred in a well charted body of water next to a heavily populated coastline, even though it was in a warm climate, and even though it was close to thousands of available cleanup vessels.
The Arctic region has none of those features. It is dominated by extreme cold, dense fog, and long periods of darkness. Much of the year it is covered by ice. All of these challenges are compounded by remoteness.
The closest Coast Guard base is 1,000 miles away. Two of the Coast Guards polar icebreaking vessels are not even operational, leaving only one. Bringing rescue crews and cleanup equipment to the Arctic would be a staggering challenge. Meanwhile, a spill would exact its toll on a one-of-a-kind landscape.
The Arctic Wildlife National Refuge is one of the last wild places on Earth. It is a birthing ground for caribou, polar bears, grizzly bears, arctic fox, and many other species. It is also the densest on-shore polar bear denning area in the U.S. Even if a spill occurred offshore, the shore and barrier islands of the refuge would likely be oiled, threatening much of the food web, including marine mammals such as ice seals, which polar bears rely on for food. The ripple effect would reach the onshore wildlife in no time.
Following the BP disaster, oil executives admitted the industry lacked a rigorous safety culture in the offshore environment. Federal officials testified they didn't have the money, staff, or expertise to oversee it. Little has changed since then. Congress hasn't passed a single bill to strengthen drilling safeguards.
America is simply not prepared to safely drill in the Arctic, nor would it benefit us to do so. The reality is that it would take 10 years for any Arctic Refuge oil to reach the market. And even when production peaks--the refuge would produce a paltry 3 percent of Americans' daily consumption, potentially lowering our gas bill by a few pennies at most.
That's no solution to our energy needs. But the good news is, there is a better way.
A few months ago, President Obama made a decision that would help America break our oil addiction. He raised fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 mpg by 2025. That will cut U.S. oil consumption by as much as 1.5 million barrels per day, which is equivalent to U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 2010. That's the type of solution we need--one that will benefit America's drivers, not just Big Oil.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge belongs to the American people--not to the government and not to the oil industry. We shouldn't let them take it away from us.
About Frances Beinecke President of the Natural Resources Defense Council
Cindy Shogan Executive Director of the Alaska Wilderness League
Edward J. Markey U.S. Congressman
Doc Hastings U.S. Congressman
John Fleming U.S. Congressman
Marilyn Crockett Executive Director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association
Robbie Diamond Founder, President and CEO of Securing America's Future Energy
Lisa Murkowski U.S. Senator