Arctic Drilling – You Just Gotta Believe…
There are those of you who have been worrying about Shell’s imminent offshore drilling plans in the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska. You remember the live video of the billowing plumes of oil spewing from the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico. You remember watching the news from Alaska in 1989, as film of viscous black liquid that was supposed to be seawater slopped up on the shoreline in Prince William Sound. Countless seabirds, otters, and other wildlife suffered death by crude. Many humans also suffered ill effects to their health from a toxic bath of oil and hazardous dispersants used to hide the disaster, and from suicide after their livelihood and the place they called home was shattered.
Perhaps you read the article here at The Mudflats where just two years ago, we took a trip to “Diesel Beach” in the Sound and our footprints still filled with oil. And you know that a once vital herring fishery in the Sound is simply gone. Gone soon will be the killer whales that still swim those waters. They don’t know that they will become extinct, but scientists give them another 20 years.
You wonder about this new offshore drilling in the Arctic, where migratory whales feed, where rich colonies of life dwell below the ice, where the nearest Coast Guard Station is thousands of miles away, and where the pristine seascape is covered with pack ice. What of polar bears which are fast becoming endangered? What of whales and other sea life? What of the indigenous culture of the northernmost reaches of the continent who have subsisted here for thousands of years?
You might even have done a little research and found out that Shell has faced more legal prosecutions for safety and environmental transgressions than any other major oil company drilling offshore in the North Sea. Or that the Coast Guard’s Admiral has warned repeatedly that there is simply no infrastructure available to clean up a major spill in Arctic waters.
And then there’s Shell’s record of environmental and human devastation in the Niger Delta. Unspeakable.
But for you, the Obama administration has some comforting words. Interior Secretary Salazar said this week in a telephone briefing to reporters:
“I believe there’s not going to be an oil spill.” Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, June 26, 2012.
Are your fears and trepidations put to rest now? If not, perhaps you’re wondering what that sentiment reminds you of… Is it this?
“We believe that the boat is unsinkable.” Philip Franklin, Vice-President of White Star Line, April 15th, 1912, about The Titanic.
Or perhaps, this?
“…oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills.” Barack Obama, 18 days before the Deepwater Horizon exploded.
And if Mr. Salazar’s sunshiny belief system turns out to be wrong, there’s still Plan B. Shell says that even if there was a catastrophic spill in Arctic waters, it could recover up to 90% of the oil that was spilled.
“Up to” 90%. That would be 90%, or less.
And technically, the 3% of oil that was recovered in the Gulf of Mexico, or the stellar 7% that was recovered in Prince William Sound would fall in that “or less” category.
We can’t set our hopes on MORE than 90%, but they can definitely do LESS than 90%.
So, even when belief fails, “up to 90%” as reported to the Department of the Interior in a report written by, and submitted by Shell itself seems to be enough for the government to OK the plan.
I’m hanging on to that Salazar quote. It will be my headline when there is a spill.
~A polar bear swims in the Beaufort Sea