Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.
Less than a year after the Deepwater Horizon gusher was finally sealed, oil companies are claiming they can drill safely in the Arctic Ocean, an even more fragile and forbidding environment than the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, our government seems to be suffering from amnesia, too.
This month, Shell Oil received a conditional approval from the federal government to drill four exploratory wells next summer in Alaskaâ€™s Beaufort Sea. The company claims that it can end a gushing spill like the Deepwater Horizon in just 43 days and clean up 90 percent of oil lost.
These claims arenâ€™t based in historic experience and have little scientific evidence to back them up. Crews were only able to recover 10 percent of the oil escaping the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico last summer, and only 8 percent of oil from the Exxon Valdez spill.
The most recent oil spill drill in the Beaufort Sea was in 2000 and was described as a â€śfailure.â€ť Mechanical systems like skimmers and booms in calm but icy conditions simply didnâ€™t work. The technology has not improved since then. Just watch this video of a failed cleanup test:
We are incredibly saddened by the passing of Caleb Pungowiyi, a longtime Alaska Native leader and Oceanaâ€™s Senior Advisor and Rural Liaison.
Originally from the St. Lawrence Island village of Savoonga, Calebâ€™s work was a critical part of Oceanaâ€™s accomplishments in Alaska. He was a passionate yet incredibly humble person who followed his beliefs and led by example. He cared deeply about protecting and nurturing the subsistence way of life and the environment that was his garden.
Calebâ€™s decision to work for Oceana was not easy, but once he learned more about Oceanaâ€™s work, he embraced us, helped guide us, opened many doors for us, and worked to break down mistrust of outside organizations.
Prior to joining Oceana, Caleb held many positions, including president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, an international organization that advocates for indigenous people of the North. We are very lucky that Caleb brought his experience and friendships in the Arctic to Oceana.
In a huge triumph for the U.S. Arctic today, Royal Dutch Shell chief executive Peter Voser announced that Shell's 2011 plans to drill exploratory wells offshore in Alaska are canceled due to continued uncertainty over whether it would receive federal permits.
Shell had hoped to drill exploratory wells in 2010 in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, but its plans were put on hold by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar after the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Susan Murray, Oceanaâ€™s Pacific Director, said of the announcement, â€śWe hope this decision by Shell will also bring a commitment from them and others in the oil industry to fully review the mistakes that led to the Deepwater Horizon blowout with local communities, the public and the government. We need a truly open discussion about how to determine if we should move forward with oil and gas activities in the Arctic, and if so, when, where and how.â€ť
Oceana has been instrumental in monitoring the permitting process and holding policymakers accountable for upholding the law. The slew of faulty environmental analyses and permit applications make it clear that we are not ready to move forward with oil and gas activities in the Arctic, especially in light of last summerâ€™s disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Tomorrow Oceana board member Ted Danson will testify against offshore drilling in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska (more specifically, Lease sale 193). Danson, a long time ocean advocate, believes that the Arctic is not ready for offshore development. There is a lack of baseline science to determine if offshore drilling can be conducted safely in the region, and there is neither the infrastructure nor the response capability to respond to a large spill.
This past week Danson visited the Arctic community of Barrow, Alaska. Accompanied by Oceanaâ€™s Pacific Director Susan Murray, Mike LeVine and myself, Ted visited with Mayor Edward Itta of the North Slope Borough, Director Taqulik Hepa of the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, Chairman Harry Brower of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, and other officials. Oceana hosted a community meet-and-greet where Danson took the opportunity to meet and learn from coastal residents, while sharing his stories and connections to the ocean.
As DailyKos and the New York Times reported yesterday, melting sea ice has forced more than 10,000 walruses ashore in the Alaskan Arctic. Normally they rest on ice floes in the summer, periodically diving for food.
And this isnâ€™t the first time. In fact, this is the third time in the last four years that the walruses have alarmingly turned into landlubbers.
Just in time for Secretary Salazarâ€™s visit to the U.S. Arctic, today our colleagues in Alaska released the results of a new nationwide poll on offshore drilling. The poll, conducted by David Binder Research, shows that Americans overwhelmingly support a precautionary approach to offshore drilling.
According to the poll, 88 percent of the American public thinks it is important for there to be a science-based approach to decision-making and for response capabilities to be in place before any drilling occurs, even if it slows the timeframe for oil drilling.
The Greenland shark is a cold water shark, living in the northern Atlantic and Arctic oceans. Its flesh is poisonous to humans if eaten fresh.
Check out our full list of creatures and come back tomorrow for another random fact!
In a definitive victory for the Arctic, the government released final regulations protecting almost 200,000 square miles of U.S. Arctic waters from industrial fishing.
The new regulations, which close all U.S. waters north of Alaskaâ€™s Bering Strait to commercial fishing, will be effective starting December 3, 2009. The closure will allow for more time to assess the health of Arctic ocean ecosystems and the potential impacts of large-scale fishing given the impacts the Arctic is already facing from climate change and ocean acidification.
And don't forget the looming threat of offshore oil drilling in the Arctic. Last month the government approved a plan for drilling in the Beaufort Sea next summer, and a similar plan for the Chukchi Sea is currently under review with a decision expected this month.
Conservationists, scientists, and local communities agree that the science-based precautionary approach we have achieved with industiral fishing should be replicated with oil, especially given the higher risks of oil spills in the Arctic and the inability to contain, control or clean up an accident in the icy waters of the Arctic.
Congratulations to everyone who helped make this happen!