One small step for the Arctic

By February 28, 2013 Ocean News

A few days ago a small but important step was taking in keeping the marine Kulluk Drill Rig Runs Aground in Alaskaecosystems of the arctic pristine and that came in the form of Shell suspending plans to develop offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. It’s a small step as the company has not stated its intentions to fully end plans to drill in the Arctic but it does mean one more year without the potential for disaster. While the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico was an unmitigated disaster it did have one thing going for it. That’s the fact that the water is warm. This is an important piece of information to note because bioremediation of oil spills (as well as natural processes occur faster in warm water than cold. The effects of the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska are still observable today 21 years after the event, and that was “only” 260,000 to 750,000 barrels spilled (compared to the 4.1-4.9 million in the Deepwater Horizon spill or the 6-8 million cleaning-oil-spill-1barrels intentionally released during the Gulf War in 1991). If a spill of the magnitude of the one we saw in the Gulf of Mexico a few years ago happened in the Arctic it would take many decades for the ecosystem to recover, possibly longer. This on top of the increased risk of a spill occurring due to the unforeseeable and generally harsher conditions associated with the Arctic that would impede any efforts to contain one should it occur. This is definitely a one small step moment but one that we can and should build on to try and prevent further efforts to start off-shore drilling projects in the Arctic.

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