05/12/2010 - With exploratory drilling—the same kind BP was doing in the Gulf of Mexico—planned for this summer north of Alaska, environmentalists see a worrisome comparison.
It wasn't that long ago that proponents of oil drilling, and even President Obama, were arguing that the threat of spills had been substantially reduced thanks to new advances in drilling technology. It's a claim that sounds humbling in light of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. But rather than harp on the past, environmentalists are focusing their efforts on the future, specifically this summer, when another round of exploratory drilling is set to begin off the pristine coasts of Alaska.
In a nod to the "drill, baby, drill" crowd last December, Obama's Interior Department sold leases for exploratory drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, north of Alaska, for the summer between July and October, the inflexible window when seas contain more water than ice. Companies like Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Statoil scooped up expensive leases valued at more than $2.7 billion; if the Arctic contains as much crude as they think, this could be their next frontier in lucrative ocean drilling. All are now in a holding pattern as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reviews permits for their plans. With a decision expected later this month, drilling could begin as soon as early July.
Getting sufficient reinforcements north of the Arctic Circle could take days, if not weeks, from places like Prudhoe Bay (which saw an aboveground oil spill at a BP site in 2006), Washington State's Puget Sound, or even San Francisco, according to a calculation of risk by the Pew Environment Group. "No matter how you spin the numbers, there's simply a lack of infrastructure to be able to respond to a sizable spill in the Chukchi Sea," says Marilyn Heiman, Pew's Arctic-programs director.
Read the full article, What About the Arctic? at Newsweek.com.