"The tragic explosion and loss of life on the exploratory drilling rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico reminds us that offshore oil drilling comes with continued risks to workers and the environment.
We welcome the White House announcement today that the administration would hold off on any new drilling until a full review of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been conducted. It is especially important that the pause in new drilling the administration announced today apply to current and future offshore drilling plans in America's Arctic waters. Despite the dangers of offshore oil drilling, plans are already underway for new exploratory oil drilling to begin as early as July in the Arctic Ocean's Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. If we are unable to contain the spill from Deepwater Horizon, how can we expect to do any better in the ice-laden Arctic Ocean.
This remote region is the least understood area of our oceans. It presents challenges not faced in the Gulf, including frigid temperatures and ice-clogged seas. A disastrous oil spill could leave oil in the waters off Alaska for decades, killing endangered whales, seals, fish, and birds, and destroying feeding grounds. What we really need is a time out on offshore oil drilling in America's Arctic Ocean and surrounding coasts.
In approving this summer's Arctic Ocean exploratory drilling, the federal government considered the likelihood of a major spill so slight that it didn't bother to analyze such an eventuality. The government said "the probability of a large spill occurring during exploration is insignificant and, therefore, this [environmental assessment] does not analyze the impacts of large spills from exploration operations."
Current exploratory drilling plans for the Arctic assume that if a blowout were to occur, the drill rig would be unharmed and would be able to drill a relief well, if necessary. In the Gulf oil spill the drilling rig burned and sank.
President Obama should direct his administration to take a cautious, science-based approach to development to determine how best to proceed in this fragile, complex ecosystem. We have a responsibility to protect, not rush to exploit, the Arctic Ocean."
John McManus, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6707