Why rushing to drill is a bad idea: Help us protect fragile Arctic waters

Chukchi Sea, Alaska. Courtesy USFWS.

Like many students, I often put projects off until the last minute. This was a great source of aggravation to my parents, who would be besieged by requests for rides to the library at 8 pm the night before research papers were due. This lack of foresight on my part led to several sub-par efforts, and many teachers cited a “hurried” feel to the papers or projects in question.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) is emulating the bad habits of my teenage years, and is rushing through its Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on the effects of drilling for oil and gas in the frigid Chukchi Sea portion of the Arctic Ocean.

The “supplemental” aspect of this SEIS is due to The Wilderness Society, along with others, having the same comments that my teachers did many years ago, faulting the original EIS for being haphazardly rushed through. After taking the issue to court, the 9th Circuit agreed with The Wilderness Society and the other plaintiffs, and ordered the Interior Department to rewrite its EIS, and to provide a more complete analysis of the dangers of drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Now the DOI is repeating its mistakes by rushing through the SEIS as well, thus caving to pressure from oil companies eager to drill in the Chukchi.

Nobody knows how an oil spill would affect the Arctic Ocean and its marine and coastal wildlife. Questions of whether the oil would be contained by surface ice or trapped underneath have not been answered and require more research. The long winter nights in the Arctic would make cleanup nearly impossible, and the icy rough seas of the Arctic are a far cry from comparatively warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

What is known is that the Arctic Ocean is home to some of the most amazing creatures on earth, and that some of them are already threatened or endangered. Polar bears, already at risk because of climate change-related habitat loss, would be further threatened by a catastrophic major oil spill. Likewise, the endangered bowhead whales which migrate to the Arctic every year would be put in even greater jeopardy if suddenly there was an underwater gusher of oil.

Walrus in Chukchi Sea. Courtesy USFWS.Taking the time to conduct proper research on the effects of spills on wildlife provides critical information for decision-makers. There is no good reason to rush through the EIS process when the potential consequences likely would be great.

Rushing through a project has rarely resulted in good work. I learned that lesson in high school…perhaps the Department of the Interior should learn it now.

Click here to Take Action, and tell the Department of the Interior to slow down its Supplemental EIS, and to do it right.

Chukchi Sea, Alaska. Courtesy USFWS.
Walrus in Chukchi Sea. Courtesy USFWS.