“Save the Artic” shone brightly on the walls outside of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Anchorage, where the League joined Greenpeace, Sierra Club and others to demand protection for the Arctic Ocean. Passionate Alaskans rallied below; they had come from across Alaska and beyond to attend a public hearing and express their opposition of Chukchi Lease Sale 193, which would give Shell Oil permission to drill in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of northwest Alaska. Inside, the hearing room was packed. Each chair was filled and I was overjoyed to hear voice after voice speak out against drilling. This was the first of three hearings that I was to attend across Alaska, and despite geographic differences, the testimony at each meeting echoed the first: drilling in the Chukchi Sea is not worth the risk.
In December the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) traveled throughout Alaska for a series of public hearings, taking comments on the latest Environmental Impact Statement for oil and gas development in the Chukchi Sea. In Anchorage, BOEM heard from concerned citizens across the state and even the nation, as those affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster testified via IPad about the devastation to their region and environment as a result of a major offshore oil spill.
From Anchorage to Barrow, Alaskans are wary of industrial activity in the waters surrounding their state, and for good reason. BOEM’s revised findings included a sobering prediction of the level of oil industry activities that could occur as a result of Arctic Ocean leasing – and the likelihood of a major oil disaster. The effects of leasing in the Chukchi Sea could be catastrophic; for example, under its new analysis, BOEM acknowledged that there is a 75 percent chance that one or more large oil spills (more than 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons, of oil) would occur if the leases from Lease Sale 193are developed. That is frightening news, as there is no way effectively to clean up or contain an oil spill in Arctic Ocean conditions.
Offshore development guarantees increased activity in this sensitive area and all but promises an oil spill, which directly threatens the food and cultural security of Alaska Native peoples while simultaneously endangering precious habitat for some of the Arctic’s most iconic species including walrus, bowhead whales and polar bears. I heard biologists, engineers, tribal leaders, professors and students highlighting these concerns again and again throughout BOEM’s hearings. At each of the meetings that I attended, opposition voices outnumbered those supporting the oil industry; Alaskan’s care about the health of the Arctic and are standing up to ensure that it is protected. Now is the time to acknowledge that Arctic offshore drilling is simply too risky and that Shell Oil is too unprepared. Alaskans spoke up loud and clear during the December meetings; it’s time for the Department of the Interior to listen.