Stop Offshore Drilling in the Polar Bear Seas

The Obama Administration’s recent proposed oil drilling initiative in the Polar Bear Seas in Alaska has sparked a response from environmental groups and animal conservation activists, who see the federal government’s five year plan, intended to be implemented in 2012, as a major threat to polar bears in Alaska. The two seas, the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, are a habitat for a high number of polar bears and other arctic animals.

A petition on thepetitionsite.com, sponsored by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), states, “These waters are home to more than half of America’s polar bears and include a sensitive area off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — the polar bear’s favorite onshore birthing ground in Alaska.”

Oil drilling in Alaska would hurt not only polar bears, but also seals, whales, walruses and other Alaskan animals. The drilling would threaten these animals’ natural habitat, and a potential oil spill would kill many animals, covering them with oil.

If a spill were to occur in Alaska, the forceful seas, prolonged periods of fog and darkness and the harsh environment would make cleanup efforts difficult, as would the fact that both the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas are blanketed with ice for the majority of the year. The Coast Guard has stated that it does not have the capacity to respond to a potential oil spill in Alaska, and the oil industry has no record of a successful oil spill cleanup in icy seas, making it uncertain that big oil companies have the capacity or technology to clean up a possible spill.

The NRDC’s petition says, “If the oil industry couldn’t clean up a spill in the temperate Gulf of Mexico, what chance does it have in a remote environment with 20-foot surging seas, gale-force winds and sub-zero temperatures?” The risk of an oil spill, combined with the lack of knowledge and technology available to execute a successful oil cleanup in the Arctic, strongly suggests that drilling in the Arctic Ocean possesses too many risks and potential for damage to wildlife, the environment and the native people of Alaska.

Polar bears, a species already listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, face threats due to climate change, which has caused the Arctic ice to melt and destroy their habitat. Oil drilling would burden polar bears with additional threats, making the survival of the species more difficult. In addition to the dangers that marine animals face, Alaska’s native population will suffer from damage to their natural home as well.

The Alaskan wilderness, one of the last untouched and well-preserved areas in the United States, needs to be protected from not only the environmental dangers of oil drilling, but also from the disastrous effects of an oil spill. The Chukchi and Beaufort Seas have been closed to oil development since 1991, and we, as responsible citizens and environmental advocates, need to take action to keep them off-limits.

In its letter, the NRDC also calls for the halt of any new leases on oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and asks the federal government to keep the Pacific and Atlantic coasts free from oil rigs. The organization states that, instead of opening up American waters to environmentally-threatening oil drilling, the federal government should support the development and implementation of different forms of clean energy that do not possess a risk or threat to the environment and that will support the economy.

Add your name to the petition letter, directed to Steven Textoris of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, at thepetitionsite.com to show your support for polar bears and the natural Alaskan environment.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/davidw/2132684141

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