Stopping the next oil spill before it happens

Bill Meadows

As I continue to follow the devastating news concerning the oil spill on the Gulf Coast, I am overwhelmed with a sense of deja-vu from the Exxon-Valdez tragedy that occurred in Alaska over two decades ago. It's been more than 20 years, and Alaskans are still recovering from the mess that the historic spill left in Prince William Sound. As analysts estimate that the Gulf catastrophe could be even worse than the Exxon-Valdez, one can only guess how long it will take for the citizens and wildlife of the Gulf Coast to bounce back from the damage.

Yet even with these two disasters as precedents, a controversial drilling plan is still going forward in a few months. Soon, a drilling ship and other support vessels will steam toward the Arctic Ocean and conduct exploratory drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the coast of Alaska. Similar exploratory drilling that has sown destruction in the Gulf of Mexico is scheduled to begin in the Arctic early this summer — and could pose a much greater risk to the oceans, a host of aquatic and marine creatures, ancient native cultures and communities and the safety of the workers on board.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has already decided to allow the drilling to continue — now is the time for Secretary Salazar to step in and reconsider allowing the drilling that will put our Arctic waters at risk.

As the predictions for the aftermath of the Gulf Coast spill grow bleaker, it is imperative that plans to drill on the Arctic Coast be halted immediately. If the fleet of Coast Guard vessels and other infrastructure in the Gulf has been insufficient to stop the spread of this spill, what kind of damage would a spill in the isolated, treacherous Arctic waters cause?

In addition to drilling the coastline, a few lawmakers have also suggested that the Gulf Coast oil spill makes a case for drilling in inland areas, including Alaska's iconic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Off-shore or not, there is no "safe" way to drill for oil and gas. The wild areas at risk are too much to lose. As I have asked before about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:

"When you look at the refuge — at the wild, rugged, and pristine vistas — you have to ask yourself, if we, as a nation, cannot protect this place, what can we protect?"

Both the Arctic Ocean and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including its coastal area, are rich, wild ecosystems that provide crucial habitat for countless species, including those that are endangered. Destroying these invaluable wild areas is not the answer to weaning off our nation's debilitating dependence on oil. The Obama administration must invest in alternative fuel options and make preserving America's most beautiful wild lands for generations a priority.

A version of this blog was also posted in Huffington Post.