Conditions in the Arctic Ocean can be a challenge, to say the least. From subzero temperatures, days of near-complete darkness, broken sea ice and 20-foot swell-conjuring storms, it is an environment unsuitable for much, let alone oil and gas drilling. Defenders has been fighting efforts to open up Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas for exactly this reason: an oil spill would devastate the fragile ecosystem supported in these waters, and despite the oil and gas industry’s feeble attempts to argue otherwise, the technology to clean up a such a spill doesn’t even exist.
And now we have proof. On February 17, an Icelandic oil tanker ran aground on the Southern Norwegian coast and began leaking heavy oil into surrounding waters. Greenpeace reports that cleanup operations are underway, but have been difficult due to ice covering the area. Frieda Bengtsson, an oceans campaigner for the group who spent time at the site last week with the Norwegian Coast Guard, told Alaska Public Radio Network that it’s shocking how slow the cleanup process is, and that two days of snowfall made it impossible to find much of the oil.
Tragically, the spill occurred close to Norway’s Ytre Hvaler national park – the country’s only national marine reserve. An area rich in wildlife and coldwater coral reefs, already birds, seal pups and other animals have been impacted by the oil. To make matters worse, Bengtsson says the cold weather is making it difficult to handle sea birds that have been affected.
Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas are too rich with life to risk a spill such as this or one of even greater proportions. Defenders will continue to fight efforts to open these Arctic treasures to the devastating consequences of oil and gas drilling.