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Conservation IssuesEnvironmentally Safe Drilling in the Arctic?
Pat Sziber

Environmentally Safe Drilling in the Arctic?
Pat Sziber

The administration continues to brush off the potential harm of drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Perhaps the President is unaware that drilling would take place year round and would require hundreds of square miles of pipelines, gravel mines, housing facilities, landing strips, and permanent roads. He also may be unaware that scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have concluded that there is not enough fresh water in the refuge to support the construction of ice roads in winter. (See the April 2001 issue of Scientific American to learn more about this often untold story.)

Experience elsewhere in Alaska underscores the threats drilling poses to the delicate tundra ecosystem. About 10 percent of the safety shut-off valves in BP Amoco PLC's entire drilling operation on Alaska's western Prudhoe Bay failed to pass state tests during the first quarter of this year, company officials said in a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal. The valves are designed to be closed remotely in the event of an accident, according to the story. Workers have stated that, although there are other valves in the pipeline system, these are the most crucial both for worker safety and for protecting the delicate tundra. According to the story, six of the 21 drilling platforms have had failure rates between 10 and 30 percent.

This information adds to environmentalists concerns about oil companies' capability of providing "environmentally safe" drilling. Cleanup of a pipeline leak at a Prudhoe Bay Gathering Center is still underway. This 11,550 gallon spill had been discovered on February 20 of this year, but BP officials said they believe that the pipeline actually ruptured around December 5, 2000. In that spill, crude oil and methanol leaked through the cracks in the ice, contaminating tundra wetlands and a lake. On April 15, 92,400 gallons of saltwater and crude oil leaked from a pipeline on the North Slope, the fourth major spill on the North Slope this winter. The mixture was warm enough to seep through the ground and may eventually kill all vegetation in its path.

To learn more about the abuses at Prudhoe Bay, you can visit a Web site established by some of the whistleblowers who reported these recent problems: www.anwrnews.com

Information for this article was extracted from the Alaska Wild Update dated April 30, 2001, courtesy of Jen Schmidt of the Alaska Wilderness League



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Last revision: Tuesday, July 03, 2001 - 03:10 PM