Plans to drill for Alaskan oil threaten polar bear numbers
Friday 04 January 2008
Environment groups are protesting against plans by the US government to open up a vast area of Arctic sea off Alaska for oil exploration, saying it would pose an unacceptable new threat to polar bears and walruses.
The Minerals and Management Service, MMS, said it would be seeking bids for petroleum licences in the Chukchi Sea on 6 February. The 46,000-square-mile area, located between Alaska and the coast of the Russian Far East, holds 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil and a huge volume of natural gas.
It is also home to one of the two main populations of polar bears in US territory, as well as large herds of walrus. The announcement comes days before Washington is to decide whether polar bears should be declared an endangered species because of the effects of global warming.
"The chances for the continued survival of this icon of the Arctic will be greatly diminished if its last remaining critical habitat is turned into a vast oil and gas field," said Margaret Williams, of the wildlife group WWF.
The expansion of exploration rights in Alaska is strongly supported by Sarah Palin, the state's governor, but will always be controversial with environmentalists amid growing evidence that global warming and shrinking sea ice are already threatening populations of Arctic mammals.
It is the first time in 15 years that the US government has invited oil companies to bid for new licences in the area. Pamela Miller, of the Northern Alaska Environmental Centre, said the Bush administration had taken insufficient account of recent changes in Arctic conditions associated with global warming before making its decision and had not clearly examined what impact new drilling might have.
But Randall Luthi, director of the MMS, insisted that all environmental risks were explored and taken into account. "We believe our decision is a good balance and will allow companies to explore this intriguing frontier area while still protecting the resources important to the coastal residents," he said. Moreover, no drilling would be allowed less than 50 miles from shore, he added.
But conservationists are also warning of the danger of accidental oil spills. "No one yet has figured out how to clean up a spill in broken ice, so they just stick their head in the sand and pretend it won't happen," said Brendan Cummings, of the Centre for Biological Diversity.
Researchers recently found that Arctic sea ice had fallen to its lowest level since satellite measurements began in 1979.
The US has held off offering new Alaskan licenses for so long in part because of the expected protests of conservationists but also because of the engineering challenges of exploration so far off-shore in such an inhospitable area. Officials admit they do not know what degree of interest oil companies will show because of those difficulties. Environmentalists hope interest is low. "We've seen all these studies and reports concerning significant impacts to marine mammals from global warming," said Betsey Beardsley, of the Alaska Wilderness League. "If you couple that with increased oil and gas development, there's no telling what impact that would have on marine life."
Springwatch presenter Chris Packham attacks Malta's bird slaughter which has seen 'at least' 24 protected species killed
The ugliest animals on earth: Blobfish, axolotl and proboscis monkey battle it out to be named least attractive beast
The 10 best folding bikes
Red squirrels: The creature that everyone knows but is hardly seen
10 best hiking boots
- 1 Are you turning into your dad? The top ten signs you've embraced dad-ism revealed as survey says 38 is age men turn into their father
- 2 Overheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
- 3 Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'
- 4 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews
- 5 Grace Dent on TV: Game of Thrones has jumped the shark
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
Nigel Farage on Have I Got News For You: Ukip leader ridiculed over expenses and party 'fruitcakes'
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...
£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...
£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...