Arctic animals face a new threat that could severely exacerbate habitat stresses caused by climate change. In recent years, oil companies have targeted vulnerable waters in Alaska’s Chukchi and Beaufort seas, hoping to create a new frontier for oil drilling.
Dr. Amy Vedder, senior vice president of conservation at The Wilderness Society, and I recently had this experience in Alaska’s Western Arctic region at a shorebird research field camp organized by the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Twelve short months ago, most Americans knew very little about offshore oil drilling and its dangers. Then, in a tragic accident that was both sudden and drawn out, the Deepwater Horizon unexpectedly exploded killing 11 crew members and beginning the worst oil spill disaster in U.S.
Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said the Louisiana court decision has no effect on the administration's decision to suspend until 2011 new offshore drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
"We wish it did," said Julie Hasquet, a spokeswoman for Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska. "But we don't think it does."
There is an important way for President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to show they are absorbing the lessons of the gulf oil spill and to reaffirm their pledge to proceed cautiously with offshore drilling in the future. That is to withhold the permits Shell Oil needs to proceed with a highly controversial drilling project in the Arctic Ocean.
Consider that while the Gulf "cleanup" efforts have been stalled by 8-foot seas, waves in the Arctic can swell to 20 feet on a semi-regular basis. In the icy north, winds that are famously stronger than those of the Gulf punish any vessel on the water.