With ongoing discussions on opening up the Arctic to the exploration and drilling of oil and gas, the Ocean Elders wrote to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to emphasize the risks to this environmentally fragile region. The letter, signed by HSH Prince Albert II, HM Queen Noor, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Sir Richard Branson, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Captain Don Walsh, Jose Maria Figueres, Nainoa Thompson, Sven Lindblad and Graeme Kelleher, stresses that “we have a moral imperative to halt the cycle of dependency that the melting Arctic epitomizes. The common sense way forward is to simply pull oil and gas drilling out of the region altogether.”
Dear Secretary Kerry,
The Ocean Elders are concerned about imminent plans by the five nations bordering the Arctic Ocean to explore and drill for hydrocarbons in that environmentally fragile region. These actions present tremendous ecological dangers, and would pose significant challenges in responding to a spill or accident, should one occur.
In the United States, the decision to open up new areas for Arctic oil and gas stands in conflict with the Obama Administration’s strong and recent announcements to shift to cleaner forms of energy and reduce the impacts of dangerous and escalating climate change.
The region above the Arctic Circle accounts for only about 6% of the Earth’s surface area, but it could account for as much as 20% of the world’s undiscovered, but recoverable oil and natural gas resources. However, with global oil production rising and demand slowing, the per barrel price has come down dramatically. Also, the world already has more oil and gas reserves than can be burned without exceeding a global average temperature rise of 2 degrees.
Amid a worldwide supply glut and financial warnings about stranded assets, it seems incongruous that against this challenging economic backdrop, Royal Dutch Shell and the U.S. Administration are pushing ahead.
Arctic resource development is both high-cost and high-risk and the consequences of any future accident will be disastrous. Oil pollution in cold water environments becomes a long term persistent feature that can cause damage for decades. For example, oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska is still evident even after a multibillion-dollar cleanup effort by Exxon. Today, it is estimated that more than 26,000 gallons of that spill remain in Prince William Sound’s sand and sediment. Some estimates cite that the pollution will remain in the ecosystem for at least another 30 years.
Oil pollution events are dramatic and harm everyone. The pollutants directly impact local peoples and wildlife. We are told that Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Statoil, and Total have all put Arctic plans on hold. The fact that the drilling industry is unprepared, and in fact unable, to clean up a major oil spill in the Arctic Ocean is resoundingly seconded by experts.
The Arctic is already ground zero for climate change. It is one of the great ironies of our time that despite the significant melting of multi-year ice, the Arctic is now being seen as the next great frontier for oil and gas drilling. We have a moral imperative to halt the cycle of dependency that the melting Arctic epitomizes. The common sense way forward is to simply pull oil and gas drilling out of the region altogether.
The Ocean Elders