Not a single successful response drill of a major offshore spill. No successful drills in rough water, sheet ice conditions, or broken ice conditions -- there has not even been a successful spill response at the lease sale sites in calm water. See the trend here? It cannot be done. If industry had some sort of viable spill response system, they would have demonstrated it years ago.
The subtitle of the online flier reads: “While Alaska remains the land of opportunity for oil and gas reserves, the challenges to access its vast reserves persist. Join NAMEPA to discuss what industry, regulators and environmental groups are doing to realize the potential of the region.” Certainly the oil and gas industry will be represented, and the U.S. Coast Guard will be there. Fran Ulmer, state Sen. Lesil McGuire, and a single Native corporation representative are also presenting. But where are the environmental groups? Where are the village councils, municipal and tribal organizations that would -- in reality -- have to deal with the results of an Arctic oil spill?
NAMEPA sounds official. It has government participation through the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. But when I called about the conference, I was routed to a voicemail for a marketing and communications company in Connecticut. A marketing company in Connecticut. I have gotten phone calls from marketers; they try to sell you something over the phone. What is this marketing company from Connecticut trying to sell? This sounds like an industry trade group.
Before they “realize the potential of the region,” industry must work out the mechanics of containing an oil spill in Arctic Ocean conditions. A huge concern of environmentalists around the world is that obviously there currently is no way to set booms in broken or sheet ice. Factor in giant filter-feeding bowhead and gray whales in an intricate ocean trophic system, and a large oil spill would devastate the food chain. So oil spill response is that much more crucial. It must be developed first.
This means huge investments in research and development into equipment that can feasibly recover oil in broken ice. And in rough seas. The combination of rough seas and broken ice prevents any realistic recovery of oil with current skimmers and booms. If industry wants to operate in these conditions, shouldn’t they be required to have real oil spill response abilities in the same conditions?
Another important consideration is the certification of booms and skimmers. This important testing and certification should not occur in the protected bays of Southcentral Alaska. This testing and certification should occur at the lease sale sites if agency and industry is serious about having a realistic spill response scenario. A protected bay down south is hardly comparable to 70 miles offshore in the Chukchi Sea.
The North American Marine Environmental Protection Agency has “Environmental Protection Agency” in its name and this conference has Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Coast Guard participation. It all sounds official and legitimate. But beneath the surface, this is industry, through a marketing company in Connecticut, working with our government agencies pretending to address the issue of safety on the Arctic Ocean. There is no effective spill response on the Arctic Ocean. None. The oil companies stand to profit greatly while laying all of the liability on the Arctic Ocean and the villages that depend on it.
Until proven spill response on location has occurred, the Coast Guard and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management should not allow drilling at the lease sale sites.
If I only had my own marketing company, perhaps I could get the participation of the Coast Guard and BOEM in a conference about real marine environmental protection. I would advocate for a “prove it first” spill-response stance. Please Coast Guard Commander Ostebo and BOEM Alaska Director Dr. Kendall, make industry prove they can do what they say they can do before allowing them in the Arctic Ocean.
Daniel Lum lives in Fairbanks. He operated a wildlife tour company in Barrow and is a graduate of Ilisagvik College. His first book, a photo-narrative about the sandy spit of land known as Point Barrow, titled "Nuvuk, the Northernmost ," was published in June by the University of Alaska and University of Chicago presses.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com .