Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Treading on Thin Ice

For decades, the northeast corner of Alaska has been designated the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It means that area is protected from development and, most famously, oil drilling. But all that may be about to change. In March, Royal Dutch Shell won permits to begin exploring the viability of oil drilling just off the shores of ANWR, in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. If successful, oil companies are projected to flock to the Arctic in search of more oil. Things are getting heated among activists and icebergs alike.

Shell isn't technically drilling for oil...yet. They're doing "exploratory drilling," which means "drilling for data." So what's the concern? For one thing, oil spills. After all, only two years ago British Petroleum (BP) was spilling 53,000 barrels of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico. That took over three months to stop up, and the damage is still being dealt with today.

Of course, Shell only got the go-ahead from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement after authoring a detailed Spill Response Plan for the Beaufort Sea. Opponents, however, argue that their equipment and tactics have not only never been tested. Moreover, the Coast Guard isn't stationed up that far north, and they fear an inability to respond to any accidents that could occur. It would be up to Shell to prevent disaster, which they're promising they can do.

But things aren't going according to plan. On July 14th, one of their drill ships, the Noble Discoverer, drifted off course, dangerously close to shore. Shell is busy investigating what went wrong. Meanwhile, environmentalists are freaking out. Another disaster, this time in the Arctic seas, could be devastating.

Thousands of local residents depend on sea-life for sustenance, a resource threatened both by spills and by the mere presence of ships and drills. Add that to the already-seen devastation to wildlife caused by the BP spill, and we're looking at some pretty nasty dangers. Not to mention the fact that, in order to do this drilling (even the exploratory kind), Shell needs to literally melt icebergs. Nothing like speeding up global warming and rising sea levels, right?

If drilling did produce oil, commercial production isn't estimated to be operational for another decade or so. That means we'd be "investing" in oil production for 2022, a time when, quite frankly, we need to have moved on to more sustainable energy sources. Especially since an oil-dependent world shifts power to Russia and the Middle East, where the oil is far more plentiful than even the most optimistic projections off Alaskan shores.

The environmentalists groups are going wild with opposition. Greenpeace occupied a Shell oil rig in the spring, a consortium of environmental organizations is filing a lawsuit against Shell, and hoax videos and news articles have begun appearing online, mocking Shell's recklessness. Greenpeace is sending two ships into the Arctic to monitor Shell's operation; we'll have to see if any confrontation will result. Meanwhile, the Yes Men  have launched a parody Shell website, arcticready.com, which pretends to be a public relations campaign for Shell's new endeavor.

This is where all the hilarious "advertisements" came from

Want to take some quick action online?

All that online stuff is easy. What's hard is getting people active. So go ahead, send some links to some friends. Share it on Facebook and Twitter. Talk to your buddies. Ask questions. Read blog posts. And when you're ready, figure out what you can do to help this planet. Because "unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." - The Lorax.

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