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Both the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas face imminent developmental threats in 2013 and 2014 through planned exploratory activities and eventual development. Multiple huge offshore seismic explorations are staging now for massive activity in several regions of the American Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.
And not only in American waters. Russian and Canadian seismic explorations are being simultaneously planned on both sides of the borders, as well as extensive operations across international waters beyond. Seismic exploration will have strong negative results in either the Chukchi or the Beaufort. These effects from huge seismic pulses alter the marine mammals’ natural movements, creating both an obstacle and a deterrent. This is especially difficult on the marine mammals that use sonar location like bowhead, beluga and grey whales.
Looking back at the operating year 2012 we saw multiple rig and vessel failure, even rig grounding. Industry has shown they are not ready to operate safely in our waters! Therefore gauging their actual response abilities, such as simple booming in varied conditions, should be the priority of everyone, because to this day there has been no proven spill response on the Arctic Ocean.
And this year there is new information about a huge subsurface ocean current (the Divergent Current) in the Chukchi Sea that would bring any oil spills from the drill sites straight to shore, spreading up and down both coasts of the entire North Slope. A major problem is that at the offshore drilling sites there are often huge fields or plates of ice that can completely halt any operations. If they are not able to contain the well before ice season, we risk months of Very Large Oil Spill –ending subsistence lifestyles as millions and millions of barrels line the shores.
The dangers of massive offshore seismic activities, the inability of industry to operate safely offshore, the dangers of the divergent current and the Arctic Ocean environment itself present a combination of factors that threaten the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, and the marine mammals (and humans) that depend on them. Industry is far from ready to operate so far offshore and in such dangerous conditions, without any proven spill response and their recent history of failure.
The realities of the Arctic Ocean will continue to threaten safe development so far offshore. We still have yet to see a single successful oil spill response drill on location and in varied conditions – simply because it cannot be done yet! The continuance of marine mammal subsistence relies on clean water.
This type of development affects not only the North Slope, but also the villages along the West Coast of Alaska. Seal, walrus, polar bear, fish, whales and countless sea birds migrate along corridors that intersect with planned development and any future large oil spills will certainly be felt outside of the spill area(s). Industry has so much to gain, and the villages have so much to lose.
Let us look at the Exxon Valdez disaster, so many years later. If you dig down into the beach you can still find oil! It has not been cleaned up – just the surface! And industry, with its giant pockets, kept the plaintiffs in court until many of them had died – settling claims for pennies on the dollar! We cannot expect other oil companies to have our interests at heart. They can hold as many community meetings
as they want and incorporate as much “traditional knowledge” into their spill plans as possible. But community meetings and traditional knowledge will not soak up an Arctic oil disaster. And they certainly won’t replace the absent or contaminated food stocks. Offshore drilling in the Arctic is bad. Industry cannot contain 100 basketballs in drift ice, much less a very large oil spill.
Daniel Lum is the Author of “Nuvuk – the Northernmost”, father of five children and lives in Fairbanks where he advocates for Arctic Ocean conservation.