Report: U.S. isn’t prepared for Arctic Ocean oil spills

Oil production in Alaska

A new report by the National Research Council has concluded that the United States is unprepared to address oil spills in the Arctic Ocean. The report – commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, various federal agencies and others – is titled “Responding to Oil Spills in the U.S. Arctic Marine Environment.”

Over the past decade, both polar ice melting and the exploration interests of the oil industry have increased. Shell's problematic drilling and mobilization in 2012 in the Arctic Ocean along with a flawed analysis by the federal government on Chukchi Sea leases (challenged in a successful lawsuit by The Wilderness Society and others) led the company to suspend plans for drilling this year.

The NRC report highlights several key gaps that remain to be addressed by those considering oil exploration and production, including:

  • the lack of research on how oil behaves in an Arctic environment
  • limited capabilities for monitoring and mapping Arctic seas
  • the great distance to U.S. Coast Guard facilities, and therefore their slower response ability
  • the lack of a working relationship with Russia to respond to disasters as well as to manage ship traffic
  • the need to address wildlife considerations, especially given the region's remoteness, adverse conditions, safety concerns, and the use of marine mammals for subsistence by indigenous people

“The National Research Council’s report on oil spills in the Arctic Ocean does not help industry make its case for drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas," said Lois Epstein, an Alaska-licensed engineer and Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society. "The report documents the reasons why we cannot clean up – and are unlikely to ever effectively recover – a significant percentage of oil from any major spill into the Arctic Ocean.

“We need to decide as a country if it makes sense to risk the near-pristine Arctic Ocean environment now that we know there is little that can be done to clean up major oil spills. And oil companies like Shell need to decide whether drilling in the Arctic Ocean should remain a priority.”

Join us in working to save the Arctic Ocean from oil drilling!