Playing the “long game” means protecting the Arctic Ocean from oil spills, reducing climate change

Sep 30, 2016

A major oil spill in the Chukchi Sea would threaten the fragile coastline and important wildlife habitat of the Western Arctic's National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Kathryn Hansen/NASA

Gov. Bill Walker, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott and Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack met this week with senior members of the Obama administration, urging them to keep the Arctic Ocean in the upcoming final version of the 2017-2022 federal offshore leasing program. Lois Epstein, a licensed engineer and Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society, issues the following statement in response:

“We really should be focused on the long game, which means protecting the Arctic Ocean instead of risking catastrophic environmental damage by exploiting the world’s most expensive, high-risk oil,” Epstein said. “Removing the Arctic Ocean from the final offshore leasing program is the right thing to do to protect Alaska’s northern coastline and to help meet our nation’s greenhouse gas reduction commitments to the international community.

“We cannot ignore that Shell’s many serious problems in the Arctic Ocean in 2012 and 2015 proved that the industry is incapable of safely mobilizing and drilling in such a remote place and with such extreme weather and ice. Alaska’s northern coast has no Coast Guard base, little infrastructure to support a spill response, and the industry lacks the technology to recover significant amounts of spilled oil.

“Depending on the location and conditions in place at the time of a major spill, the sensitive coastlines of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska could be greatly harmed,” Epstein added.