1 Million Voices: Protect Our Arctic Ocean

On a muggy summer Tuesday morning, polar bears, a walrus, a sandpiper and 150 activists delivered to White House more than one million comments from concerned members of the public—all asking President Obama to stop plans by Shell Oil to drill in the remote, fragile waters of the Arctic Ocean.

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On a muggy Tuesday morning, two polar bears lumbered south on 17th Street in Washington D.C. A walrus waved at drivers honking their horns. A sandpiper flapped its wings as it passed food trucks and coffee shops. And, 40 representatives from more than a dozen environmental groups wore bright blue shirts emblazoned with the logo “SAVE THE ARCTIC.”

Paws, wings, shirts and all, they headed towards the White House with a few things to tell the president. Joined by a few hundred activists, they gathered to deliver more than one million comments from concerned citizens, asking President Obama to stop plans by Shell Oil to drill in the remote, fragile waters of the Arctic Ocean this summer.

The waters of Alaska’s northern coast are home to threatened polar bears, endangered bowhead whales, walrus, seals, birds that range through every state in the Union. Drilling in these waters threatens these species and the vibrant indigenous Alaska Native culture that depends on a healthy Arctic Ocean, both already under stress from rapid climate change.

Even as Shell’s ships move closer to those waters, the activists chanted: “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Arctic drilling has got to go." Onlookers lunching in Lafayette Park and tourists taking photographs in front of the White House gathered around to hear speakers calling upon the president to protect our Arctic Ocean.

The message is clear: An oil spill in these waters would be devastating. The nearest Coast Guard station is more than 1,000 miles away. The infrastructure to prevent or clean up an oil spill simply doesn’t exist. Government scientists have admitted that we still need to learn much more about the basic ecology of the region, the impacts that oil drilling will have there, and many questions about oil spill response in the region.

Comments from more than 50,000 Earthjustice supporters were among those submitted to President Obama. I joined Jessica Ennis, Adriane Underwood and Jeremy Graham from the Earthjustice Policy and Legislation department in front of the White House to make sure that not only were our comments delivered, but that our voices were heard.

Conditions in the Arctic Ocean could make oil spill clean-up nearly impossible. Twenty-foot swells, persistent frozen sea conditions, hurricane force winds, and darkness for months of the year would be just some of the obstacles faced in cleaning up oil spilled in the Arctic Ocean.

Oil drilling could begin as early as this summer unless the president does the right thing and pulls back on this risky exploration. Please tell the President that you want the Arctic Ocean protected.!

Jared was the head coach of Earthjustice's advocacy campaign team from 2004 to 2014.

Opened in 1978, our Alaska regional office works to safeguard public lands, waters, and wildlife from destructive oil and gas drilling, mining, and logging, and to protect the region's marine and coastal ecosystems.