A virtual oil slick has oozed across the National Audubon Society website since April 20, the second anniversary of BP’s Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. On the last day of the campaign, April 26, the focus shifts to future threats in the Arctic. As you read this, a drilling fleet under contract to Shell Oil is making its way to a patch of seabed less than 15 miles from Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of the earth’s most pristine wilderness areas and a national refuge.
“If you liked the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, you will love Shell’s plan for Alaska,” said Mike Daulton, V.P. of Government Relations for Audubon. “Shell has never demonstrated the ability to effectively clean up a large oil spill in the Arctic Ocean. Beyond the usual problems of handling a major spill, Alaska has huge ocean waves, gale force winds and widespread sea ice. A major oil spill in Alaska would be Deepwater Horizon meets the Titanic.”
Broken ice covers the Arctic Ocean for much of the year. Storms with hurricane-force winds can whip up 20-foot seas. Temperatures drop to 40 below zero. Plus it is dark half the year.
The waters along Alaska's northern coast provide vital habitat for polar bears, endangered bowhead whales, and millions of migratory birds. As the “headwaters” for the flyways of the Americas, few places on earth are as vital to the protection of birds. Each spring – more than 200 species, many of which we see in our backyards in the lower 48 during the year -- journey to the Arctic to nest, feed, and raise their young.
The U.S. Government's own non-partisan watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report last month raising fundamental concerns about whether a major spill could ever be managed in icy conditions. Yet Shell has secured nearly all the government permissions it needs to begin drilling operations in a body of water that is ice-covered much of the year. The last test of oil-in-water spill clean-up capability in 2000 was a recognized "failure." Retired Vice Admiral Roder Ruff, who helped prepare the Coast Guard's review of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, described the U.S. ability to address a spill in icy conditions as "pretty abysmal."
“The potential harm from a BP-scale spill is almost beyond comprehension;” wrote Audubon President David Yarnold in The Huffington Post; ”And, there is growing evidence that we simply do not need to take risks like this to meet our nation's energy needs. Oil imports are down. Oil production from domestic wells is up thanks to new technology. Energy independence is becoming a real possibility.”
Audubon’s online supporters are urged to take action. To make a difference, supporters can write a letter to President Obama, who in his State of the Union address said: "I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago."
On Day One of the Audubon campaign, people were encouraged to support the RESTORE Act which would ensure that 80 percent of the penalty money resulting from the BP oil spill goes to restoration projects on the Gulf Coast. As participants take action each day, the oil slick recedes from Audubon’s website, to reveal a healthy coastline of clear water on April 26. That happens to be the birthday of artist John James Audubon, the namesake for the society founded in 1905.
See Audubon President David Yarnold’s blog “Big Oil's Arctic Bet: a Fool's Risk” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-yarnold/big-oils-arctic-bet-a-foo_b_1431093.html
Followers on Twitter will use the hashtag #oilandbirds
Photos & other resources for media at http://gulfoilspill.audubon.org/newsroom/press-rooms/gulf-oil-spill-press-room