California oil spill response is ominous for Arctic Ocean

In the Arctic Ocean, stormy seas and icebergs would make oil spill cleanup extremely difficult.

Credit: Phil, flickr.

Rough-sea disruption of California oil spill clean-up could be a bad omen for the turbulent Arctic Ocean.

Three days after a pipeline spilled 105,000 gallons of crude oil in balmy Southern California, the Associated Press reported that “bad” weather was slowing cleanup efforts. Winds had churned sea waves to four feet, forcing skimming boats to shore.

Read more: Government's approval of Arctic Ocean drilling plan puts habitat at risk

Think about that for a moment. Four-foot waves crippled an oil-recovery effort near sunny Santa Barbara. Boats sought shelter in harbors, leaving the cleanup effort to beach workers equipped with—and we’re not joking—garden rakes.

But Royal Dutch Shell promises it can drill safely and clean up an oil spill in Alaska’s Arctic Ocean, where storms stir up house-size waves in iceberg-laden seas.

Is it any wonder the public doesn’t trust what they say?


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California’s latest spill, which came from a pipeline owned by a company called Plains All American Pipeline, has fouled beaches in a state famous for its lovely weather. And it’s heavily populated, teeming with all the boats, people and infrastructure needed after an oil spill.

Yet the industry couldn’t cope with four-foot waves.

Meanwhile, Shell is preparing its armada of ships and drill rigs for another attempt to drill in the Arctic Ocean, a region infamous for its brutal storm conditions. And Alaska’s northern coast is one of the nation’s least populated areas, severely lacking all the boats, people and infrastructure needed after an oil spill.

Given the potential for disaster in Alaska, where the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has estimated the chance of a major offshore oil spill in the Chukchi Sea at 75 percent over the lifetime of oil production on one particular lease, the news and images emerging from warm, sunny California should give us all a chill.

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