Victory in the Arctic! Oil drilling in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas postponed

Polar bears, bowhead whales, and native communities are safe from the oil spill devastation that their Gulf coast counterparts are still dealing with. The Obama Administration has announced that they are postponing oil drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off of Alaska’s northern coast until at least 2011. That includes Shell Oil’s plans to do risky exploratory drilling this summer.

The decision comes as part of a larger report on the Deepwater Horizon disaster that was delivered to the President by Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Wilderness Society supporters were instrumental in convincing the Administration to postpone the drilling — more than 75,000 members and supporters contacted the Department of Interior to push for a stop to the drilling, which was scheduled to move forward this July.

Polar bear.By protecting the Arctic Ocean for at least another year, Wilderness Society supporters bought time for some of the most fragile ecosystems in the world. Home to endangered species like polar bears and bowhead whales, an oil spill in the Arctic could have devastated the ocean and coastal ecosystems, and pushed those species even closer to the brink of extinction.

Learn more about how an oil spill would impact Arctic animals here.

“The decision to halt drilling is a victory for the Arctic ocean, for coastal ecosystems, and for the native communities and wildlife that depend on them,” said The Wilderness Society President, William H. Meadows.

With the stakes so high, The Wilderness Society and coalition partners pulled out all the stops to prevent the drilling from going forward. TV ads ran nationally on CNN and during the Daily Show and Colbert Report in the Washington DC metro area. Full page appeals ran in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and soon others were taking up the call. The New York Times even published an editorial calling on the Interior Department to halt the drilling.

The fight for the safety of the Arctic Ocean isn’t over yet. The halt on Arctic drilling is temporary, and the drill ships could be up there as soon as summer 2011. But for now, the seals and bears, walruses and whales, and the communities that have depended on them for centuries, are safe from the type of catastrophe that is still unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.

Polar bear.