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September 27, 2021


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.

More than two decades after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Knight Island remembers. (7/4/10 by J. Devon)

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.

The worst spill in UK waters in a decade at a Shell Platform in the North Sea, 2011.

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



10 Responses to “Arctic Drilling – You Just Gotta Believe…”
  1. Lindsey Hajduk says:

    A friend of mine sent me an article from a big Norwegian paper on June 28 titled, “WARNS AGAINST RISKS IN THE ARCTIC: America’s powerful “Energy minister,” warns against oil exploration in the Arctic. Ken
    Salazar does not know how oil can be removed from the ice.” It’s an extremely interesting piece because it is the opposite of what Ken Salazar says to the US. Sounds like Salazar knows all the risks he’s taking in the Arctic, but denies it to Americans. (I have a PDF of the article and my friend’s translation if “Mudflats” would like to take a look!)

    Other interesting quotes from the story are:
    – The world’s most powerful energy person looks worried.
    – On the floor above him tramples hundreds of ministers, CEOs and key bureaucrats. They are gathered in Trondheim to discuss sustainable oil production in the Arctic. In the cold cellar under Erkebispegarden Ken Salazar carefully throws out his hands.
    -There have been many studies and experiments, but there is not yet found a clear answer on how to do it, says Salazar.
    – We must develop new requirements and standards that are adapted to this environment. The challenge is that we know too little about it today, says James Watson.

    Yes, I’d love to see the article. Please send to Thanks!

  2. JimInWA says:

    Xena is doing her bit.

    Saturday interview: Lucy Lawless – Xena the Ecowarrior
    Lucy Lawless made her name playing Xena: Warrior Princess. Now she is facing jail after a protest on board an Arctic oil drilling ship. So what turned her into an ecowarrior?
    — or —

  3. Alaska Pi says:

    Dear Secretary Salazar-
    Believing is about the Tooth Fairy, Santy, the Easter Bunny , and the like, sir.
    We want real and abiding information, safe guards, hard and fast law and funding to move rapidly in the event of a spill, and all that kind of boring grown up stuff when it comes to oil drilling.
    Some of us would like for there to be no drilling there at all.
    We expect an oil spill sir, we are sure it will happen- the odds are high.
    If you are going to allow this kind of drilling, please plan for failure and please plan for what you will say to and do for the Inupiaq when it happens. Leave out all that we’ll-make-you-whole horsepunky too, sir. Those folks have heard all that crap before.
    I’m guessing since our neighbors , the bowhead whales, polar bears , and the like can’t vote , they are just SOL when it happens.
    as AKM and WC and others say- not if, but when
    sincerely, sir, there is no Tooth Fairy, nor is there any thing smart about believing there will be no spill.

    Pi, who recognizes pi-in-the-sky hoo bobby when sees it

  4. zyxomma says:

    OK, how about for my birthday (today!) everyone get together and appoint me Empress of the Universe (I know, I know, La Palin believes that’s she, but she’s delusional).

    I shall wave my scepter and declare ALL waters off-limits to offshore drilling, unless and until whichever disgusting energy company wants to drill (wherever) can show a 25-year no-spill safety record, along with a proven legal record of having compensated generously any and all victims of oil contamination and concomitant environmental devastation, whether in Ecuador, Niger, or here in the USA.

    For my next act, I’ll require that all food containing genetically modified ingredients be labeled.

    It’s my birthday. I’ll dream as huge as I choose.

  5. Ed says:

    Jeanne, when you’re right, you’re right. A certain “energy” company liked to use terms like “sheen” and compared the spilled oil to “chocolate milk” a couple of years back. I mean, who doesn’t love some healthy, frothy chocolate milk while they’re applying a nice sheen to condition their hair? Happy, happy, joy, joy Luntzian phraseology won’t replace the ecosystems we’ll lose when Shell cuts corners in the Beaufort. Not “if.” “When.”

  6. InJuneau says:

    I mourn for an Arctic Sea that had not yet died and the inevitable loss of culture of the Inupiaq.

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