Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Clearing of the Northwest Passage

photo via BLDG BLOG

Faithfully supported by the Bush administration, corporations like Shell Oil were expediting plans to prospect and develop Alaska's continental shelf, littering the Beaufort Sea with drilling ships and wells, supply ships and barges, airplane and helicopter racket, blasted-out harbors, ice-fortified steel piers, and hundreds of miles of pipe—not only an immense increase in contamination and disturbance but an incalculably risky project that threatened to overwhelm the adaptive capacity of the indigenous sea hunters and an entire precious ecosystem already seriously under stress from Arctic warming.[2]

Environmentalists are quite aware that despite society's desperate need for clean energies, carbon fuels will drive the world economy for years to come, and political pressures for ocean drilling may be insurmountable. But the risks of ecological disaster from irreparable accidents such as oil spills in Arctic seas are truly enormous, which is why critics feel so strongly that the oil industry's ambitions are premature at best and at worst reckless. In addition to severe operating and maintenance difficulties in fierce Arctic conditions—never satisfactorily tamed even on land—any offshore drilling operation would have to deal with freezing ocean storms and shifting ice and four bitter months of winter darkness.

When one considers the more than four thousand spills--over one a day--recorded by the oil industry in its land operations in the last decade, and keeping in mind that offshore hazards are far greater, the inevitable accidents seem certain to accumulate into an ongoing and permanent calamity. A black effluvia of crude petroleum and drilling mud and chemical pollutants would spread inshore, suffocating plankton and invertebrates and bottom-dwelling fish and poisoning great stretches of Arctic coast with a viscous excrescence. The same toxic mixture will blacken the drifting ice, fouling the pristine habitat of Arctic birds, the Pacific walrus, four species of seals, and the beleaguered polar bear, while contaminating the migratory corridors of the white beluga and endangered bowhead whales—all this defilement made much worse by the grim fact that no technology has ever been developed for cleaning up spilled oil in icy waters. Even in spills in temperate waters, such as the Exxon Valdez disaster, only an average of less than 15 percent is ever removed.

via the NYRB, read the rest here.

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