Drilling in ANWR a Disaster Waiting to Happen
Federal agencies, oil companies are ill-equipped to respond to deadly messes that are part of the business
November 3, 2011
It is not time to drill in the Arctic Refuge, or off the coast of the refuge in the Arctic Ocean. Instead of rushing to drill in fragile, intact, pristine ecosystems like the Arctic, the United States should harness American ingenuity and invest in sustainable energy solutions that will provide this country with clean, alternative energy sources.
While a transition to clean energy cannot happen overnight, the United States already has more rigs producing oil and gas than the rest of the world combined. As of October 21, 2,021 rigs were in operation in the U.S., compared to just 1,673 in the rest of the world. In addition, there is no need to enter spectacular wilderness-quality lands like the Arctic Refuge when the oil and gas industry is sitting on more than 6,500 approved permits to drill wells on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
As we saw last year in the Gulf of Mexico, drilling is a dangerous, dirty business. A spill like Deepwater Horizon would be devastating to the Arctic region. As last year's catastrophic spill showed, federal agencies and oil companies are ill-equipped to respond to an oil spill. Yet, this fall, decisions are before federal agencies to approve or disapprove Shell Oil's 2012 drilling plans for the Arctic Ocean.
Shell's spill plan claims the company can mechanically recover 95 percent of the oil spilled in the water. During the Exxon Valdez disaster, the recovery rate was closer to 8 percent, and in the Gulf only 3 percent of the spilled oil was recovered. Shell's recovery rate is simply unrealistic. In addition, Shell's proposal includes a barge-based cleanup system, one that has failed and been rejected by industry experts. The plan also ignores the harsh Arctic wind, ice, and weather conditions that limit the time and equipment available to responders. The last oil spill drill in the Beaufort Sea described mechanical cleanup efforts in icy conditions as a "failure." Nothing has changed since that drill. The plans currently before the agency are severely inadequate.
Instead of rushing to drill in special places like the Arctic Refuge and the Arctic Ocean, we should take a cautious, science-based approach to development. We should protect the pristine beauty of this complex ecosystem instead of exploiting its resources.