Monday, November 15, 2010
Shoot, Ready, Aim - Madness on the Arctic Seabed
A warning from the Pew Environment Group. Big Oil is pressing to get Arctic seabed oil drilling underway this summer even though they have no way of effectively dealing with spills or other mishaps. Think Deepwater Horizon but then factor in sub-zero temperatures, hurricane force winds, 30 foot seas and months of constant darkness.
"There is a lot of pressure by Shell to drill this summer," Marilyn Heiman, director of the US Arctic programme at Pew said. "But the oil companies are just not prepared for the Arctic. The spill plans are thoroughly inadequate."
Trying to clean up a spill in the extreme conditions of the Arctic would be on an entirely different order of magnitude. "The risks, difficulties, and unknowns of oil exploration in the Arctic … are far greater than in any other area," the report said.
The consequences for the Arctic's environment would be dire, it said, wiping out populations of walrus, seal and polar bear and destroying the isolated indigenous communities that depend on hunting to survive.
Getting to the scene of a spill would be a challenge. The nearest major port, Dutch Harbor, is 1,300 nautical miles away from the drilling areas in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, and what few air landing strips exist are not connected to any road system. There are no coast guard vessels in either sea, and the nearest coast guard station is 950 miles by air away in Kodiak Alaska.
Response teams would confront gale-force winds, massive blocks of ice and turbulent seas, total darkness for six weeks of the year, and extreme cold. Cranes would freeze and chemical dispersants, such as those used to break up the BP spill, might not work.
Then there is the ice. Left undetected, a pipeline leak could spread oil beneath the surface of sea ice. Ice floes could carry oil hundreds of miles away from the source. At freeze-up, oil can become trapped within ice within the space of four hours, remaining there until spring. If it becomes trapped within multi-year ice, oil could stay in the environment for years, or even a decade, the report said.
To my mind, if we allow Arctic seabed drilling, without first establishing "worst scenario" precautions, properly deployed, equipped and staffed, we have indeed taken leave of our senses. That would be a horrid rejection of the imperative that man find ways to live in harmony with our environment.
Just because we can, doesn't mean we should. Just because we can get at unconventional sources of fossil fuels, doesn't mean that justifies the risks and consequences. As climate scientist James Hansen puts it, some of this oil should just be left safely in the ground.