There are no quick fixes for the nation's energy needs. Although oil plays a role in President Obama's energy plan, the government must ensure proper oversight and planning before drilling, especially in such extreme, remote and fragile areas as the Arctic Ocean off of Alaska's northern coast.
There are currently 3.8 million acres under lease to drilling companies in Alaska's Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. There are considerable challenges in permitting responsible exploration on these tracts. A careful, precautionary approach is necessary to ensure we get it right.
These challenges include impacts to bowhead whales, walruses and polar bears, as well as to the Alaska Native villagers' traditional way of life along the coast.
Scientists have a very limited understanding of how the warming Arctic is affecting the marine ecosystem. In addition, these remote areas have little to no infrastructure in place to deal with an oil spill. And there is no proven method for cleaning up a spill in icy waters, especially when accounting for the hurricane-force winds, extreme temperatures, and long periods of fog and darkness that plague the region.
Government must ensure strong prevention, containment and response measures that are on site and ready to go given the remote and extreme conditions. Much more needs to be done first to make sure we can do it right and prevent major spills that could damage this fragile ecosystem. That is why we have advocated that the Interior Department should not offer any new leases for sale in the U.S. Arctic Ocean as it drafts its 2012-2017 Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing plan, which will govern offshore drilling over the next five years.
The BP Deepwater Horizon spill provided the world with a prime example of what can occur when companies drill without strong oversight, monitoring and tested safety and response plans in place. America cannot afford to make that mistake again, particularly in the Arctic Ocean where harsh conditions require exceptionally strong safety standards that minimize the potential for a spill and maximize the ability to successfully contain and clean one up should it occur.