StatoilHydro to drill for gas and oil in Arctic’s Chukchi Sea and its environmental perils.

Norwegian oil and gas producer StatoilHydro announced yesterday that, it would get the licences for 16 Chukchi Sea exploration leases. It is believed that up to 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil reserves and 77 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lie beneath the remote Chukchi Sea on the northwestern coast of Alaska.

This is the first lease sale in the Chukchi Sea since 1991. Norway’s Aftenpost described the Chuckchi sea as being located between Alaska and Russia just north of the Arctic Circle, is a frontier area, covered by ice year-round, and considered to be one of the world’s most vulnerable sea regions.

The Chukchi Sea Lease Sale area comprised 5354 blocks of 5609 acres in water depths from 20 to 80 meters and the Lease sale 193 was conducted by the Minerals Management Service (MMS). While a total of seven companies participated in the sale, StatoilHydro’s winning bids are subject to review and final approval by the MMS. This may take up to 90 days.

StatoilHydro spokeswoman Kjersti Morstoel admitted that this is an ecologically sensitive area. In fact, the World Wildlife Fund described the Chukchi Sea as a critical habitat for polar bears, walrus, whales, seals, and migratory birds and it is experiencing some of the most rapid loss of sea ice in the world due to climate change. Indigenous peoples also live near the Chukchi Sea. It warned that the US government’s plan to auction nearly 30 million acres of prime polar bear habitat in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska for the extraction of oil and gas is a serious threat to the lives of polar bears in the region.

A press release by the Wilderness society quotes Kristen Miller, the legislative director for Alaska Wilderness League, as saying that “the MMS has admitted a substantial likelihood of oil spills in the Chukchi Sea. There is no proven method to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic’s broken sea ice, or even to reliably clean up a spill in open water.” The native peoples of the area have also joined conservationists filed a suit in the Alaska court to fight the drilling. The press release pointed out that the Chukchi Sea serves as the lifeblood for communities like the Native Village of Point Hope, where residents have relied on the sea for cultural and nutritional subsistence for thousands of years. “The Chukchi Sea is our garden. We’ve hunted and fished in the ocean for thousands of years” said Jack Schaefer, president of the tribal council of the Native Village of Point Hope. “The ocean is what our history and culture is based on. One oil spill could destroy our way of life.”

The WWF reported that an expected listing of polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act has been delayed and it believes that this listing would have had an impact upon the release of the leases.

Even more concerning is the Wilderness Society’s report that, according to internal documents released by the whistleblower group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Interior Department ignored warnings by its own scientists that the agency had failed to fully assess the potential impacts of a lease sale in the area. The administration has also been criticized internationally for blocking scientists’ policy recommendations in a recent report on drilling by the eight-nation Arctic Council.

The Norway Post recently reported that StatoilHydro has admitted both human and technical failure when the loading hose from Statfjord A ruptured and resulted in a major oil spill in the North Sea last December. The rupture resulted in a spill of about 4400 cubic metres of oil to the sea. The investigation team revealed technical and organisational weaknesses and recommended a number of actions within StatoilHydro, the shipowner Teekay and the system supplier APL. The actions are of a technical, organisational and managerial nature.

Given this recent history of StatoilHydro’s internal organisational problems, the concerns that the technology to effectively contain and clean up oil spills does not currently exist, and the dismissal of Scientists evaluations, doubts arise regarding the wisdom of this venture and the possible consequences for the environment for all its inhabitants.

In addition, this venture is totally inconsistent with the need to move away from fossil fuels and will only add to the emissions that are leading to climate change. Surely it is ironic that the end products that this venture will deliver, will only exacerbate the problems for the native peoples who depend on the sea and increase the grave threat that polar bears and other species now face from loss of sea ice and habitats due to global warming .

~ by abstraktbiblos on Sunday, 10 February, 2008.

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