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Oceans North United States
Pew Charitable Trust | Oceans North United States
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Oil Spill Risks

The search for oil is pushing into ever more remote corners of the world – including the U.S. Arctic Ocean. Diminishing sea ice is increasing access to Arctic waters, potentially enabling industrial activities such as shipping and oil and gas development. But industrial development in U.S. Arctic waters brings a new set of challenges and a larger set of risks than in other oceans. In the Arctic, people and machinery will be working in some of the most remote and harshest conditions on the planet.

The track record of the oil and gas industry shows that despite safeguards, equipment fails, mistakes are made and accidents happen. British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico provides a vivid illustration of the risks of offshore oil and gas activity. The rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers. Two days later, the rig sank, causing a disastrous spill that eventually spewed 205,000,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf before BP was able to plug the well three months later. If anything goes wrong in the Arctic, oil will spill into a highly sensitive marine environment. The combination of oil and ice could be disastrous to the ecosystem and nearly impossible to clean up.
 
Oil Spill Risks from Exploration and Development
Oil exploration and development brings with it the ever-present risk of an oil spill in the U.S. Arctic Ocean. High winds, coupled with human error present significant risks to the sensitive Arctic marine environment.    
 
Oil in the Ecosystem
Oil and ice don’t mix. Oil spilled in broken sea ice is likely to pool in biologically rich ice leads and openings, negatively affecting marine life throughout the food chain. 
 
Oil and Arctic Sea Ice: Spill Response Limitations
There is currently no technology that has been proven to clean up an oil spill in Arctic Ocean conditions.
 
Oil and Arctic Weather: Spill Response Gap
Certain weather conditions (e.g. high wind, fog, high waves) make oil spill cleanup impossible.
 
Recommendations
There is a lack of baseline knowledge about the Arctic Ocean and how offshore oil drilling could affect an ecosystem already stressed by climate change. Oceans North recommends that the following assessments be conducted in order to better prevent and respond to an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean.

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Recent Campaign Advertisements

Following are our latest campaign ads for the U.S. Arctic Program. Visit our newsroom for more.
Science, Not Politics
Jan. 30, 2012 | New York Times | Pew Environment Group
Ad: Are we really ready to drill here?
Jun. 21, 2011 | Politico | Pew Environment Group
Ad: Don't let this happen in the Arctic Ocean.
May. 11, 2011 | Politico | Pew Environment Group
Ad: Still a big question
Jan. 28, 2010 | Politico | Pew Environment Group