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writing for godot

President Obama’s Climate Legacy Will Be Tarnished By Arctic Ocean Drilling

Written by Lois Norrgard   
Wednesday, 10 June 2015 08:01
Monday June 8 was World Oceans Day – a day to pause and celebrate all of the gifts we receive from our vast, global oceans. For those of us “inlanders” it might be difficult to appreciate our beautiful, bountiful and remote ocean systems, but even here in the Upper Midwest we are connected.

Can we possibly be connected to a place as seemingly remote as the Arctic Ocean? Of course we can! America’s Arctic Ocean – the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas – belongs to all of us and provides habitat for countless species of wildlife. This is one of the most unique marine ecosystems in the world, home to the entire population of U.S. polar bears. Many of America’s most beloved marine creatures thrive here, including whales, walrus, seals and countless birds. What’s happening in the Arctic today affects us all and will impact our children into the future, and this incredible ecosystem is in now in danger from dual threats of climate change and development.

Threat number one? Climate. More specifically, our changing climate is affecting not just Iowa but our neighbors as well with flooding and severe droughts. These impacts reach to the very core of what this region is all about: the well-being of the local communities, farming and farm families, along with some key agriculture industries. So how does the Arctic fit into a discussion of Iowa’s changing climate? As climate change awareness continues to grow, we are realizing that the connection to the Arctic region is direct. The Arctic ice cap acts like the world’s air conditioner by cooling the Northern Hemisphere, and as the ice declines that can and will seriously impact the rest of us. There’s growing evidence that the Arctic sea ice stabilizes the polar jet stream, and with it weather patterns felt in Iowa and across our nation.

President Obama has made a strong commitment to combatting climate change, but allowing drilling in the Arctic is backtracking on this pledge. Burning Arctic oil could release an additional 15.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, equivalent to all U.S. transportation emissions over a nine-year period. Scientists have warned that to meet our climate goals, we need to keep these Arctic reserves in the ground. This “extreme oil” can’t be burned if we’re to leave our kids a climate safe world.

Beyond the climate risks, there is the pervasive risk of an oil spill. By the Interior Department’s own analysis, there is a 75% chance of a major oil spill if development moves forward in the Chukchi Sea. And when oil is spilled, it will be a catastrophe. There is no such thing as clean up; once oil has been spilled the battle has been lost, as we’ve seen from the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez environmental disasters. For all of our technological advances, the recent oil spill off the California coast saw clean-up crews with mops and buckets. Needless to say, any spill in the Arctic – where sea ice and rough weather is the norm – would be a disaster.

The Arctic Ocean is prone to hurricane-force storms, 20-foot swells, pervasive sea ice, frigid temperatures and months-long darkness. There is no proven way to clean up an oil spill in these extreme conditions. What’s more, the Arctic has extremely limited infrastructure (there are no roads or deep water ports and only a handful of small airports) and the nearest Coast Guard station is 1,000 miles away.

And the riskiest piece to Arctic drilling might be entrusting our waters to Shell Oil. Shell tried once before to develop in the Arctic Ocean and its mishaps in 2012 culminated with the "Kulluk" drilling rig running aground near Sitkalidak Island, Alaska, and the operators of its other ship, the "Noble Discoverer", pleading guilty to eight felonies related to its numerous safety and environmental violations. Oh, and the "Discoverer" also slipped an anchor, nearly running aground, and caught fire at one point. And while the "Kulluk" was too damaged use again, Shell is dusting off the "Discoverer" for 2015, and already the Coast Guard held the boat in Honolulu for a day until engineers could repair the device that separates oil from the water in the ship’s bilges – the very same device failed in 2012.

After the 2012 debacle, President Obama and the Interior Department promised to hold Shell’s “feet to the fire” and promised that the company wouldn’t be allowed to drill the Arctic Ocean again until it proved it could handle conditions. Yet, with the Interior Department’s greenlighting of Shell’s 2015 exploration plans, it’s difficult to see how much has changed.

As we pause to celebrate our Oceans, we should also pause and re-think the decision to move forward with Shell’s risky and dangerous plans to drill in America’s Arctic Ocean. The Obama administration has a responsibility to our planet; he should demonstrate real leadership and say no to Shell’s reckless and dirty plans. your social media marketing partner
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