Just think: Mere days after President Obama announced he was authorizing further exploratory drilling for oil in Alaska – something ‘big oil’ has been encouraging, pleading and lobbying for almost forever – well, a decade or two, actually – Royal Dutch Shell, which has been doing exploratory drilling off the northwest coast of Alaska for some time, announced that because of costs and regulatory issues, it was halting drilling operations there.
The company said one 6,800 foot drill-down had disclosed “evidence” that oil and gas are present, but there was no indication that enough of either to justify continued exploration (and expenditure) at this time.
We can only hope that Shell’s decision, after expenditures running into billions of dollars in an area that is, under the best of conditions, more than likely to make oil- or gas-capturing exceptionally uneasy, will encourage other companies to cash in their chips and skedaddle straight out of an area that is – and we all should care about this – environmentally sensitive.
Alaska encompasses more environmentally sensitive – and threatened – area than any several other U.S. states combined. Isolated it may be (and certainly is, except from Sarah Palin’s view of Russia from her front porch), Alaska is, with its vast forests, a tremendous source of oxygen, at the rate of some 260 pounds of it per tree per year, according to About Education.
That aside – and it shouldn’t be – Alaska is home to animal species that don’t exist and couldn’t survive elsewhere. Human activities that reduce their roaming/habitat areas threaten their very existence. People paying attention – and, admittedly, too few of us are – see polar bear-supporting habitat shrinking as the ice caps do. And they are doing so at rates that are very hard to measure, and may not be as significant as some would have us believe – but rates that some others see as particularly dangerous to low-lying areas that could, in a not-even-the-worst-scenario, simply disappear, along with the homes, businesses and all else of importance to the populations of thousands, or millions.
Ice caps shrink in three ways: Through melting from above, from the sun’s rays, from below, as water below the caps warms as the caps’ outer edges shrink, and through ‘calving’ – the splitting off of often huge chunks (some the size of Rhode Island) because, in part, of the warmer below-the-caps water. The calved pieces drift away from the main cap, entering even warmer water, where they melt and can, over the long term, contribute to rising ocean levels further to the south.
One of the reasons oil and gas exploration is so expensive in Arctic areas is because the weather can be so severe. Consider this: Global warming and its effects on the ice caps will more than likely reduce the severity of that weather, making oil/gas exploration easier, and cheaper.
That would, of course, open the door to more mistakes and accidents of the types that befoul shorelines and waterfowl – among other animals. Not to mention the long-term damage such ‘incidents’ do to affected areas.
Rather than easing up regulations on exploratory and production drilling in sensitive areas, our government and others should be ever
vigilant, with accompanying legal restrictions, to ‘let sleeping oil lie’.