An open letter to President Barack Obama:
Dear Mr. President,
As a woman who worked very hard to make sure your last opponents were not elected -- walking door to door in the snow on your behalf, registering more than a thousand Alaskans to vote, exposing Palin in the national media, etc. -- I feel obligated to write you about a few of my concerns.
Your secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, recently told reporters asking about Shell's recent drilling permits and Alaska's Arctic, "I believe there's not going to be an oil spill."
Sir, he just wrote the headline for the first oil spill under arctic ice.
"I believe" is not good policy. I believe that unicorn fur is the most absorbent clean-up product.
The Coast Guard, on the other hand, has held to its reality-based position that it doesn't have the assets necessary to cover a spill in the Arctic. The Coasties will have to pull resources from drug enforcement and fishing fleet security to boost safety in our most northern ocean. The Kodiak Coast Guard base is closer to Seattle than it is to the Chukchi and Beaufort seas -- 700 miles closer. Last winter we had to rely on a Russian icebreaker to deliver fuel to ice-bound Nome.
Trusting and believing is great in church, but when it comes to oil exploration and development, we have to do better.
Lloyd's of London recently insured the new Freedom Tower in New York City, but said the Arctic is too great a risk. Lloyd's said what Salazar should have said: "The environmental consequences of disasters in the Arctic have the potential to be worse than in other regions. The resilience of the Arctic's ecosystems in terms of withstanding risk events is weak, and political sensitivity to a disaster is high. As a result, companies operating in the Arctic face significant reputational risk."
No, I'm not making this up. Lloyd's is betting that a skyscraper known as the Freedom Tower, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, erected at One World Trade Center, on the same land where terrorists attacked us on 9/11, will not be hit again.
But the Arctic is too risky to insure.
Royal Dutch Shell has been prosecuted and fined more than any other oil producer in Britain's North Sea. And these weren't fines for not having enough cupcakes at the company picnic. The company repeatedly failed to maintain pipelines and other essential equipment. Its executives failed to report a dangerous incident and weren't truthful with the government about the extent of a 218-ton oil spill. They also failed to protect workers from hazardous chemicals.
Where else might we apply the "I don't believe" analysis? How about: I don't believe I'll be in a car wreck so I won't wear my seat belt and I'll turn off the air bags. Really? No way. I'd be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt. Why? Because "I don't believe" doesn't prevent accidents. It's why we want every man, woman and child in this country to have access to affordable health care, because "I don't believe I'll get sick" doesn't mean diddly.
Mr. President, you said, "Oil rigs today generally don't cause spills" 18 days before BP's deepwater disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. You were right; they "generally" don't. Oil tankers generally don't run aground on charted rocks. But the Exxon Valdez did and Alaskans waited 20 years for the Supreme Court to finally award 10 cents on the dollar. When I walked across a beach in Prince William Sound two years ago, my boot prints filled with a sheen of oil.
Shell has claimed they can clean up to 90% of an oil spill. Since when? They certainly never have before, and no one else has either. Only 6% of the BP spill was contained, and 11% of the Exxon Valdez.
In 1989, I had a Macintosh SE computer with a 20MB hard drive. Today, you can buy a MacBook Pro with a 768 gigabyte hard drive. Between the two largest spills in America, Apple's technological growth was phenomenal. Yet there was no change to oil spill response technology; same wimpy booms and same dispersants that are more toxic than crude oil.
Generally, accidents don't happen, but when they do, it doesn't matter whether you believed it could happen or not. More than 200 million gallons of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico. Two years later, the Gulf is still reeling, both ecologically and economically. There won't be a full recovery in either of our lifetimes.
The 111th Congress introduced 101 oil spill-related bills and exactly ZERO of those bills were enacted into law. The time to act is before a spill, not after. A cup of prevention is worth 200 million gallons of cure.
Mr. President, your administration missed an opportunity. Any conservationist worth his salt would rather see ANWR opened than the Beaufort and Chukchi seas drilled. So open ANWR, set a time limit -- say 10 years -- and step up the oversight. The trade? Shut down arctic drilling. You can't control a spill in water or under ice. No one can. I know Shell has a rig on the way. You still have time to cut them off at the pass. "I believe" you can still do the right thing.