No more oil disasters: Prevent Alaska from being next in line

Satellite image of the oil spill on the Gulf Coast. Courtesy NASA Goddard Photo and Video, Flickr.

The oil companies said they could drill safely in ecologically senstive areas. They were wrong. As the Deepwater Horizon accident continues to devastate the Gulf Coast with an oil slick twice the size of the state of Maryland, there is no question that it's time to reevaluate the nation's drilling policies. 

The Wilderness Society believes it is time to call for a timeout on all new offshore drilling and exploration.

The sad truth is that there is no failsafe way to drill for oil and gas in ecologically sensitive areas — on land or sea. The latest technological advancements in oil drilling did not stop the Gulf Coast oil catastrophe. Eleven men are presumed dead. Local communities and coastal businesses are devastated. Miles of shoreline are fouled. And tens of thousands of birds, fish, and wildlife are contaminated.

Disturbingly, more of our most ecologically fragile places may experience the same fate if the nation does not use this event to finally place reasonable limitations on oil and gas drilling.

The Wilderness Society has urged the Obama Administration to halt new offshore drilling and exploration until further scientific analysis can be done.

But even as oil despoils the Gulf Coast, energy giant Royal Dutch Shell is considering more exploratory drilling off the coast of Alaska, in the icy, rough waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

If an accident similar to the one in the Gulf happened in the frigid waters of the Beaufort or Chukchi Seas, hundreds of thousands of acres of polar bear habitat and thousands of walruses, whales and seals could be affected.

Containing the spill would be far more difficult without the infrastructure in place or the fleet of vessels that have been tirelessly working to control the damage in the Gulf. In addition to the marine animals in the immediate area of a spill, shorebirds, waterfowl and other species that inhabit the coastal areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or other sensitive areas in the western Arctic would be threatened as well.

Please take action to help us ensure this does not happen to Arctic habitats.

The prospect of drilling off the north coast of Alaska recalls the legendary catastrophe of the Exxon-Valdez in 1989, the effects of which are still being felt today. If the comparatively calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico aren’t a safe place for drilling, what would the icy seas of the Arctic Ocean hold? No proven cleanup technology exists for spills in the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, and Arctic ecosystems are especially vulnerable to pollution.

Protecting the Arctic Ocean and other national treasures, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Louisiana Coast, by promoting responsible, renewable energy should be on the forefront of the debate as the cleanup continues in the Gulf. Instead of opening new lands and waters to drilling, there should be a national push towards a clean energy future that protects the wildlife, clean air and water that our public lands provide.

Please join us in taking action that could help prevent future disasters on sensitive lands and waters.

As the Obama Administration reviews its policies on drilling offshore, we have a limited time to push for protection of Arctic Alaska. Please, click here to take immediate action.

photos: Satellite image of the oil spill on the Gulf Coast. Courtesy NASA Goddard Photo and Video, Flickr.