Sorry, Polar Bears-Oil Spill in Alaska

ALESSANDRA FERRANTE – Currently, in Anchorage, Alaska crude oil as well as natural gas continue to spill onto the snow-covered tundra. [1]The spill was caused by BP drilling. [2] Employees discovered an uncontrolled natural gas leak that was accompanied by the spray of crude oil. [3]

Yesterday, while crude oil spilled onto the ice, Alaskan senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans, introduced a new bill S. 883. This legislation is to expand oil and gas drilling in the Artic Ocean, putting fragile and endangered wildlife at risk.[4] I certainly question their timing.

In December 2016 President Obama permanently protected large areas of U.S. waters in the Arctic from oil and gas drilling. The new bill — Senate Bill 883 — would effectively cancel these protections and force the Department of the Interior to quickly approve new oil and gas leasing.[5]

Leading climate scientists say that the vast majority of untapped fossil fuels must stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic, irreversible changes to the climate. Unleased federal waters contain an estimated 75 billion barrels of crude oil, more than twice that of unleased federal lands. Stopping the expansion of new leases in federal waters would keep 61.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere and oceans.[6] Maybe these Alaskan senators just don’t like polar bears?

Two months ago at least 20 tons of oil had leaked into the bay of Bengal. [7] The spill threatens a population of olive ridley sea turtles that have been nesting on the Chennai coast for 40 years.[8]The turtles are listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.[9]

Recent decades have seen a drastic increase in the development of offshore oil and gas activities. [10] Drilling more and deeper means increased threats to the environment, depletion of natural resources, and potential negative consequences for the human activities dependent upon these ecosystems.[11] Recent accidents on offshore platforms have demonstrated that the environmental risks of offshore drilling activities concern all regions of the world and all types of companies. The trans boundary nature of the impacts from these accidents have reinvigorated discussions regarding the suitability of the current international regulatory framework for offshore oil and gas activities.[12]

There are clearly regulatory gaps at the international level. Despite the United Nations 1954 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil, there are none to date. Maybe we don’t want sea turtles either?

State officials say that a cleanup will commence once the oil is capped.[13]

[1] Oil spill reported in Alaska, volume unknown, The Associated Press (April 14, 2017)

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4]Miyoko Sakashita, Alaska’s Senators Introduce Bill to Roll Back Artic Ocean Protections Legislation Could Hurt Endangered Polar Bears, Beluga Whales By Expanding Offshore Oil, Gas Drilling, Center for Biological Diversity (April 17, 2017)

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Suhasini Raj, Oil Spill Near Chennai, India, Threatens Wildlife, New York Times (February 3, 2017)

[8] id.

[9] Id.

[10] Julien Rochette, Introduction: Gaps in the regulatory framework for the environmental safety of offshore drilling activities, United Nations, (2015)

[11] Id.

[12] id.

[13] Oil spill reported in Alaska, volume unknown, The Associated Press, (April 14, 2017)

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