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400 Scientists Call for Time Out on Drilling in America's Arctic

More than 400 scientists from around the world have signed a letter urging the Obama administration to call a time out on offshore oil and gas drilling in America's Arctic until research can assess the risks to the region's oceans, wildlife and people.

The scientists urged Interior Sec. Ken Salazar to cancel Bush-era plans for selling oil and gas leases in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas and for a sale in the Chukchi that failed to comply with federal environmental laws. The scientists say the decision was made without sufficient scientific understanding of the environmental consequences and lacked full consultation with indigenous residents:

We believe that the environmental impacts of oil and gas development in the waters of the U. S. Arctic are not adequately assessed and cannot yet be accurately predicted. Offshore oil and gas activity poses risks to marine mammals, sea birds and fishes from oil spills and chronic habitat degradation through noise, bottom disturbance, and pollution (AMAP 2009).

Adequate technology does not exist to clean up oil spills in broken ice, and the cumulative impacts of widespread industrial activity will only grow. Taking coordinated action can help preserve the ecosystems that exist today, retaining more options for the future. Before offshore oil and gas development can take place safely and appropriately, we must have a better understanding of the ecosystem, adequate consultation with Alaska residents in the Arctic about their needs and concerns, and adequate prevention, mitigation, and response capacity and measures.

The scientists' letter was sent the same day that a national coalition of conservation organizations, including Earthjustice, delivered more than 275,000 messages from Americans to Salazar, also calling for a time out on drilling and leasing in America's Arctic. Included were more than 23,000 messages from Earthjustice members. The Associated Press reported on the scene outside the Interior Department in Washington:

Demonstrators carrying signs and dressed in salmon hats... called on Salazar to block oil and gas development off Alaska's coast. The group served fresh wild salmon from Bristol Bay and read comments from drilling opponents, including about 30 residents of Point Hope, Alaska, a Native village whose residents stand to lose their way of life if drilling moves forward in the Arctic. "I am really against oil drilling in the Arctic. Not for 75 percent, but absolutely for 100 percent. No drilling," said Alice Weber, 87, of Point Hope, in one of several postcards read aloud by demonstrators.

Although Salazar has criticized the scope of the Bush-era leasing plan, which in addition to the Arctic also would open up vast areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts to leasing and drilling, but has not indicated when he will decide whether to throw out the plan.

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.