As I write this, ships are being prepared to steam northward from several ports to begin poking holes in the floor of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in search of oil.
Thanks to legal action by Earthjustice over the last few years, and thanks also to a one-year time-out called in the wake of the catastrophic blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the drilling has been forestalled, but it could finally begin this July. Legal challenges are still pending, but the odds seem long against them.
That said, this is closer to the beginning of this struggle than to its end.
Discussions are under way for international agreements that would provide cooperation in the case of accidents, but for now it’s drill first, negotiate later. An agreement on search-and-rescue has been reached, but that’s all so far.
In the wake of the Gulf disaster, a commission was put in place to assess the accident and make recommendations. The commission—disbanded a year ago and reconstituted on its own recently—gave Congress a D for passing nothing to head off a repeat.
Meanwhile, oil companies and their favorite politicians continue to propose opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to exploration, as coal companies eye vast coal deposits beneath northern Alaska, and mining concerns plan to explore for other minerals.
The battle for the Arctic is just beginning.