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Report: US Unprepared for Arctic Oil Spill

Findings highlight risks of exploiting resources in fragile ecosystem

A U.S. Coast Guard vessel in the Arctic in Barrow, Alaska. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer Prentice Danner)

A U.S. Coast Guard vessel in the Arctic in Barrow, Alaska. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer Prentice Danner)

A warming Arctic and the clamor for more unconventional energy resources bring increased interest by fossil fuel giants in exploiting the fragile region's potential vast resources.

Yet a new report warns that the the United States is inadequately prepared to deal with an oil spill in the Arctic.

The nearly 200-page report issued Wednesday by the National Research Council follows years of warnings from environmental groups that there is no way to safely drill for oil in the Arctic.

The new report was sponsored by the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, American Petroleum Institute, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Marine Mammal Commission, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oil Spill Recovery Institute and the National Academy of Sciences.

"If we do not stop this Arctic oil rush we risk not only the environment but our ability to shake off the power structures of the last century."
—Kumi Naidoo, Grenpeace International
From a changing climate to lack of infrastructure, lack of data about cleaning up oil in such a harsh environment, gaps of vessel traffic monitoring, the remote location, low Coast Guard presence, and shortfalls in scientific information on deterring wildlife from spills, the nation is not prepared to deal with the risks that will accompany drilling for oil in the Arctic, the report states.

"The lack of infrastructure in the Arctic would be a significant liability in the event of a large oil spill," the report notes.

It offers "a sobering look at our lack of preparedness," adds Chris Krenz, senior scientist with the ocean conservation group Oceana, and "confirms that we are woefully unprepared for a disaster like the Exxon Valdez or the Deepwater Horizon in the U.S. Arctic," he stated.

Despite these dangers, Russia announced last week that it had sent its first shipment of Arctic oil from its Gazprom rig Prirazlomnaya in the Pechora sea — the same rig scaled last year by members of Greenpeace's so-called Arctic 30 as part of a peaceful protest.

That shipment marked "a defining moment both for the Arctic and the rest of the world," stated Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo.

"If we do not stop this Arctic oil rush we risk not only the environment but our ability to shake off the power structures of the last century. This is not about turning from one source of fossil fuels to another. It is about speeding up the inevitable switch to clean technology while reducing the amount of energy we use overall. Never has the situation been so urgent or the solution so clear," Naidoo stated.

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