Shell Oil and other oil companies are set to conduct seismic oil exploration in Arctic waters using underwater airguns louder than a launching rocket. The testing can destroy hearing in seals and endangered whales, and interrupt feeding, migration, social bonding and predator avoidance across large areas of the Arctic Ocean. Airgun blasts also drive away marine mammals which Native Alaskans have depended upon for millennia.
Alarmed by the potential consequences, Native Alaskans and conservation groups have joined with Earthjustice to challenge seismic permits in federal court. The groups contend that the federal government violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act by permitting a single company to disrupt important behaviors of more than 40,000 seals and whales, including thousands of endangered bowhead whales. The groups also charge the federal government with violating the National Environmental Policy Act by issuing seismic survey permits without completing the environmental impact statement it began in 2006.
The permits allow oil companies to blast airguns throughout vast areas of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off Alaska's north coast -– an area known as "the Polar Bear seas." The seas support endangered bowhead whales, beluga and gray whales, seals, walrus, about 100 fish species, and of course, polar bears.
Approval of the permits was rushed through by the Bush administration as part of its "drill at any cost" support of the oil industry. Unfortunately, the long-range impacts on people, animals and the environment far outweigh any domestic oil supply benefit –- which at best will be slight and is many years away. This policy will feed America's addiction to oil rather than shift the country to a sustainable energy future.