In one word, sound. Most of the animals that live in the Arctic use sound as their main means of survival. Many animals who would normally rely on sight to find food, shelter, etc. are forced to rely on their hearing due to the pervasive darkness of the deep sea. This means that unnatural sounds that exist mere inches away and also those that are thousands of miles away interfere with the animals natural ability to not only survive but prosper in their habitat.
That being said, the noises associated with oil and gas exploration and drilling are that much more invasive to the animals who call the Arctic their home. The hundreds of polar bears, whales, walruses, seals and sea birds are greatly affected by any noise disruption linked to drilling.
One of the largest immediate concerns is the seismic air gun, a device that creates an ‘explosive impulse’ throughout the water in attempts to find oil deposits. The extreme intensity of this sound can trigger permanent hearing loss and even death in some animals.
The Arctic ecosystem is considered by conservationists one of the most valuable and most fragile ecosystems in the world, and perhaps the last one to evade human disruption. Not only would drilling in the arctic disturb this ecosystem by bringing in loud, heavy machinery and infrastructure, but it would also create the potential for an oil spill, which could have devastating consequences. Conservationist scientists argue that an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean would be both more difficult to control and more detrimental to the environment than oil spills elsewhere (and given the severity of the recent spill in the Gulf of Mexico, this is a very significant claim). They argue that due to extreme climate conditions in the Arctic, the lack of sunlight and the presence of obstructing surface ice, an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean would be much more difficult to control than elsewhere, meaning a great deal more oil getting into the water. Moreover, it has been shown that oil has a tendency to become trapped on the under side of surface ice, and could then be carried to other locations, where it will be released when the ice melts. This means that the impact of an oil spill in the Arctic could have a much wider range than it would elsewhere, and would take more time to clean up. Given the Arctic’s important role as a breeding and feeding ground for hundreds of migratory species, and permanent home to many more, any such disruption of the Arctic ecosystem could amount to a serious global catastrophe.
When you drill anywhere you are basically putting a huge hole full of chemicals into an environment. This is damaging anywhere, but in the arctic, the effects are more severe because of the weather and the sensitive nature of the ecosystem there. There is not a lot of vegetation supporting the food chain and many animals there have specific habitat conditions. If either of these factors is disturbed, the impacts can be very great and in some cases unable to be fixed. For instance, polar bears have hidden dens and a very fragile population. If females are disturbed while denning, it is likely that they will leave their cubs to die. This is especially significant because the bears have low reproductive rates and even small losses can effect their populations.
The Arctic is fragile enough as it is with the melting ice from climate change, and bringing in human drilling would just make matters worse. Like everyone else mentioned, the possibility of an oil spill could be quite deadly in an already struggling ecosystem. Also, drilling could end up weaking already existing ice and glaciers, causing more problems.
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