The Wilderness Society Calls for Timeout on New Off-Shore Drilling

May 4, 2010

Gulf-scale disaster would be even more catastrophic in Arctic Ocean

“The Gulf Coast catastrophe is another tragic example of the human and environmental cost of invasive and dangerous oil and gas drilling. We must never forget the families of those lost in the accident, nor the coastal communities that will feel its effects for years to come.

“As this tragedy is reviewed and analyzed over the next weeks, months, and years, one lesson that we should take away is that there is no safe way to drill for oil and gas. 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 icy, treacherous Arctic waters cause?

“Soon ships will be steaming towards the Arctic Ocean to conduct exploratory drilling this summer 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 early this summer – and could pose a much greater risk to the oceans, a host of aquatic and marine creatures, and the safety of the workers on board.

“It is imperative that drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas be put on hold immediately so that the fragile Arctic coastal ecosystems can be spared the threat of degradation now plaguing those in Louisiana.

“The rough, icy waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas are a far cry from the Gulf of Mexico. The fleet of Coast Guard ships that have done all they can and more to try and contain the spill in the Gulf do not exist in the Arctic Ocean, and neither does other infrastructure needed for this type of response effort. The effects of a similar spill in the Arctic would take even longer to clean up and likely be much more devastating on the whales, walruses, seals, and bears that inhabit the coastal areas of Alaska.

“Expanding exploration and drilling into previously protected and remote areas is unacceptable. The Deepwater disaster shows that drilling cannot be done in an environmentally safe manner, despite industry claims. The Wilderness Society urges the Obama administration to temporarily halt new offshore drilling, including exploration, until further analysis is conducted to determine what went wrong in the Gulf.

“The Beaufort and Chukchi Seas must be included in the freeze on offshore drilling. The effects of the Exxon-Valdez are still being felt 20 years later – the effects of the Gulf Coast catastrophe will be felt for at least that long. We cannot risk another catastrophe in the Arctic.”

Statement by William H. Meadows, President of The Wilderness Society