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The Arctic

Chukchi Sea. (NASA / Kathryn Hansen)

The Department of the Interior today announced it is developing a new plan to govern offshore oil and gas drilling from 2017–2022. The agency is asking the public for information about all areas of the outer continental shelf to consider for oil leasing. One thing is clear already—the Department should not include oil leasing in the Arctic Ocean in any new plan. 

The village of Igiugig (population: less than 70).

I was lucky enough to travel to Alaska last summer for a meeting of all the terrific groups who work together protecting America’s Arctic waters from destruction related to offshore drilling. I was even luckier to meet the fine folks of Igiugig, a remote community of less than 70 people who are transitioning away from diesel fuel to renewable energy sources.

Pressure cleaning rocks on intertidal zone in Alaska's Prince William Sound area.

Tragedy struck Prince William Sound in Alaska 25 years ago today when the Exxon Valdez ran aground, rupturing its hull and pouring nearly 11 million gallons of oil into the sound’s pristine waters.

The effects of that oil spill haunt the remote region to this day. Oil remains trapped between and under the boulders on beaches in the Gulf of Alaska. And thousands of gallons of Exxon Valdez oil lurk in beach sediments—still toxic and harmful to marine life.

Shell Oil told investors this week that—after an embarrassing set of failures last year—it plans to go back into the icy Arctic waters in 2014. The announcement comes as a surprise given that CEOs of other Big Oil companies have been urging caution for month about returning to the area. And in fact, Shell has abandoned efforts to drill in the Beaufort Sea next summer.

A polar bear on the Arctic's Chukchi Sea coast.

As portions of the contiguous United States find themselves (perhaps a bit uncomfortably) in winter’s chilly embrace, a recently published study in the scientific journal Marine Biology may shed new light on the wintry lifestyles of the Arctic regions of our country.