On March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound. And an environmental nightmare began that is far from over.
Today, 22 years later, tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil still linger below the surface of Prince William Sound beaches and wildlife populations continue to be impacted.
This disaster, coupled with the catastrophe last spring in the Gulf of Mexico and a recent oil spill in Norway, should be enough to make Congress realize more drilling isn't the answer. Unfortunately, the new Congress is resorting to the tired rhetoric of "Drill, baby, drill!" and are focusing their attacks on places like the ecologically sensitive Arctic Ocean.
The Arctic Ocean's Beaufort and Chukchi Seas make up one of the most abundant marine ecosystems in the entire world. These pristine seas are home to beluga and endangered towhead whales, seals and walrus, as well as the only offshore habitat for all the remaining threatened polar bears in the United States.
Yet, Shell Oil is pushing forward with plans to drill four wells in the Chukchi Sea and two wells in the Beaufort Sea as soon as 2012. We must act now to make sure this drilling never happens.
It was all too heart-wrenchingly familiar. Last April, after the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon that left 11 men dead, the ensuing spill brought back horrific memories for the people of Alaska's Prince William Sound. They watched so many familiar scenes play out on an even larger scale: horrible images of oiled birds, marine life gasping for breath and families' livelihoods destroyed in an instant. Then The frustrating inability to contain and clean up a major spill coupled with Big Oil's continued refusal to take responsibility.
Now, recent reports out of Norway, show how difficult cleanup of oil can be in the Arctic's icy conditions. When the Icelandic vessel, the Godafoss, ran aground in late February, heavy fuel oil began spewing into Norway's Arctic waters, quickly making its way to the nearby Outer Hvaler National Park, Norway's only marine sanctuary. More than 300 birds were so fatally covered in oil that they were shot in order to be put out of their suffering.
Despite the lessons still to be learned from these past disasters, Shell Oil continues to push their plans to drill in American Arctic Ocean. Their oil spill response plans are, sadly, very similar to BP's response plan in the Gulf. They actually plan to use mops and buckets to clean up a spill in the Arctic - despite hurricane-force winds, blizzard conditions and icebergs the size of apartment buildings. This is simply unacceptable.
The Alaska Native communities that have relied on these Arctic waters for thousands of years, along with the conservation community, will continue to fight Shell's plans every step of the way. We must do everything we can to demand that the federal government scrutinize every aspect of Shell's plans to drill in an environment that is home to some of our nation's most beloved wildlife species - and is known for its remoteness, extreme conditions and frigid temperatures.
To address this you can donate to Alaska Wilderness League. You can contact your Congresspersons. You can= demand that more environmental studies be conducted. Oppose drilling in Arctic waters by any oil companies, and write a letter to President Obama opposing drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
Demand that more money be spent on alternative fuel sources.