U.S. is NOT prepared for a major oil spill in the Arctic

Arctic vulnerable to oil spills
Public Domain NASA

One of the perverse effects of climate change, and of the fact that the poles are warming up faster than the rest of the planet, is that Arctic sea ice is retreating more than we've ever seen before, opening up the Arctic sea to oil shipping and drilling. As if that wasn't bad enough in itself because it potentially makes more fossil fuels available to be burned, it also creates new risks of oil spills above the Arctic circle.

A new report by the National Research Council concludes that the United States is not ready for a large oil spill up there, and that the current personnel, equipment, transportation, communication, navigation, and safety resources for overseeing a spill response in the Arctic are "not adequate", and calls this absence of infrastructure a "significant liability in the event of a large oil spill".

Arctic summer sea ice minimum 2012 imageNASA/Public Domain

If you thought the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was hard to deal with, just imagine something similar happening in the much harsher conditions in the Arctic: extreme weather and environmental settings, limited operations and communications infrastructure, a vast geographic area to cover, and vulnerable species, ecosystems, etc. It could easily be a nightmare.

The report recommends a building of response infrastructure in case of Arctic spills. Another solution would be to not ship oil and drill in the Arctic, but I suppose that's too much to ask...

Alaska oil industryNational Research Council/CC BY-ND 3.0

The map above shows oil and gas planning areas in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. "Oil and gas lease areas are shown in orange, with seismic survey areas shown in gray. Selected oil and gas wells, some in Alaskan state waters and some in federal waters, are shown as purple dots. Some coastal communities and cities are also shown."

This is just an area of Alaska, but ecosystems are just as vulnerable on the Canadian, Russian, Scandinavia sides...

oil spill photoNOAA National Ocean Service/CC BY-SA 2.0


Tags: Arctic | Oil Spill


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