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Conservation groups join forces to stop Arctic drilling in 2012

July 12th, 2011 | Arctic Sounder Staff Print this article   Email this article  

Representing millions of Americans across the country, a coalition of concerned organizations today kicked off the "United for America's Arctic" campaign - a yearlong effort to demand the Obama administration reject aggressive and risky plans to drill America's Arctic Ocean in 2012.

The campaign launched with a full-page advertisement in Politico and a website at, said a press release from the group.

Throughout the next year, the "United for America's Arctic" campaign will use a combination of media and grassroots to raise awareness about our imperiled Arctic waters and the wildlife and the people who depend on them.

The campaign will culminate on July 4, 2012 - which is also when Shell Oil hopes to begin drilling in the Arctic - with a celebration of America's Arctic Ocean's "independence" from drilling.

America's Arctic, which acts as the world's air conditioner, is impacted by global warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. America's Arctic Ocean is home to many beloved species of wildlife - including polar bears, walrus, ice seals, beluga and bowhead whales, and many species of birds. The Inupiat people have lived off the bounty of America's Arctic Ocean for thousands of years. The "United for America's Arctic" campaign aims to highlight this national treasure - and ensure the Obama administration protects it from risky, aggressive drilling.

The Obama administration is currently considering plans from Shell Oil to drill 10 wells in the Arctic's Chukchi and Beaufort Seas - despite the fact that there is a lack of comprehensive science about the Arctic and no effective way to clean up a spill in the Arctic's icy conditions, as reiterated recently by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). What's more, Shell was recently found to be the operator of a rig in Europe's Arctic waters (the northern North Sea) that has been the worst offender in a series of more than 100 potentially lethal oil and gas spills.

Below is the "United for America's Arctic" coalition's founding statement:

America's Arctic Ocean and surrounding coasts are unique and important. For thousands of years, America's Arctic has been home to vibrant communities that depend on healthy, functioning ecosystems to support their subsistence way of life. The Arctic's Chukchi and Beaufort Seas provide vital habitat for many of our nation's most iconic wildlife species—polar bears, walrus, ice seals, bowhead whales, beluga whales, eiders and more.

Today, this national treasure is in peril as large, multinational corporations push to drill for oil in the Arctic's remote and undeveloped seas. Despite an acknowledged lack of basic scientific information and the inability to respond to or clean up a spill, the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies are considering approvals for exploration drilling on Arctic Ocean leases sold by the Bush administration. As a coalition, we oppose these specific plans because they are not based on sound science or preparedness and do not comply with the applicable laws or regulations. For those same reasons, the federal government should not approve them.

There is a lack of basic scientific information about the Arctic Ocean. We do know that America's Arctic Ocean is an integral part of life in Arctic coastal communities; that it supports iconic wildlife species; that it helps regulate the planet's weather and climate; and that it is changing rapidly. However, scientists know very little about how the Arctic Ocean functions or the ways in which this fragile marine ecosystem might respond to industrial activities. There is significant missing information about even the most basic parameters for every one of the largest and most conspicuous animals in this ecosystem—including all fish, marine mammals, and birds—which are typically the most studied animals in an ecosystem.

A major oil spill in the Arctic Ocean would be impossible to clean up and could have enormous consequences for the region's communities and ecosystems. During the winter months, the Arctic seas are covered with ice and are not navigable by oil spill response ships. If a spill started as winter ice sets in, the oil could continue to gush into the sea and under the ice for eight long months. Cleanup in the Arctic would be hampered by sea ice, extreme cold, hurricane-strength storms and pervasive fog. The nearest Coast Guard facilities are nearly 1,000 miles away, and there is no port in the Arctic capable of serving large response vessels.

Until issues such as the lack of science and the inability to clean up an oil spill in Arctic waters are addressed, the federal government cannot make informed decisions about drilling in the Arctic's Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and should not approve drilling plans.


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