Gulf Oil Spill Doesn't Prepare Us For An Arctic Oil Spill

New report warns against using Gulf incident as Arctic guideline

This page was published 13 years ago. Find the latest on Earthjustice’s work.

A new report on the perils of offshore oil drilling reminds me of an old saying about how today’s generals are always preparing to fight yesterday’s wars.

The report, by Pew Environment Group, warns that the lessons learned in fighting the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill are not good guidelines to make drilling in Arctic waters safe. Says Pew: "the risks, difficulties and unknowns of oil exploration and development are far greater in the Arctic than in any other U.S. ocean area."

In other words, let’s not be fooled by oil industry assurances that the Gulf spill has prepared us to face down a spill in the Arctic. It’s a different battleground. What barely worked in the warm waters of the Gulf will surely fail in a sea of ice. Here’s how Pew puts it:

Industry and government plans for oil and gas exploration and development in the Arctic Ocean have been rushed, relying on a cursory environmental analysis of the potential impacts of a catastrophic oil spill. They also rely on inadequate and unproven oil spill response plans and techniques.

These plans have been pushed forward despite the lack of information on Arctic marine ecosystems and the effects of climate change and a lack of understanding of the impacts that oil and gas drilling would have on the Arctic Ocean’s unique species.

The report chastises government officials for a variety of failures—especially for not setting forth requirements tailored to spill prevention and response in the Arctic. Here is what the report recommends:

• Federal resource management agencies must complete a comprehensive science plan, including research and data collection on the Arctic marine environment, before oil and gas exploration and development proceed.
• Oil spill risk assessments and spill prevention technologies must ref!ect Arctic conditions.
• Spill response must be tailored to Arctic conditions, and response planning standards must be strengthened.
• Review and oversight of oil and gas drilling must be enhanced.

Check out this news story on the report.

From 2006–2014, Terry was managing editor for Earthjustice's blog, online monthly newsletter and print Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine.