The US has blocked what is being labeled a landmark assessment of oil and gas activity in the high north polar regions. Not surprisingly, this comes at the same time that they are trying to sell off drilling-exploration licenses to the highest bidder for the Chukchi Sea off Alaska.
Sadly, this is also one of the last major habitats of the polar bear, an animal that is already struggling to deal with climate changes.
The long-awaited assessment was derailed by the US prior to its release in Norway, leaving the authors with “huge frustration.” “They [the US] have blocked it,” said one of the lead authors, who requested to go nameless. “We have no executive summary and no plain language conclusions.”
The report was put together by scientists in all eight Arctic nations, and was intended to provide up to the date views on the oil and gas exploration in the region. Additionally, it was to provide policy makers with clear cut recommendations on how to safely extract the reserves; reserves which are thought to make up a quarter of the planets energy reserves.
The US announced earlier this month that they would auction off a 30 million acre spread of the Chukchi Sea, separating Alaska and Russia, on February the 6th. The White House has rushed the sale to oil and gas companies through Congress quickly, so that Congress doesn’t have time to complete efforts to protect the polar bear.
We reported earlier this month that the polar bear was close to being placed upon the Endangered Species act. If the polar bear were to be placed under protection, it would add serious complications to the sale of the area.
A draft of the censored recommendations has been getting around, and contains requests for governments to conduct paper research on environmental impacts before signing off on new drilling projects in the area. Another of the lead scientists at the Arctic Council, who again asked to remain anonymous, said: “The key message was to be more careful. To check more before you drill for oil and gas in the Arctic.”
The polar bears in the region have not been seriously investigated since the mid-90’s, and thus there is very little known about them. The impact that this exploration will have upon them is unknown, but cannot be good.
“For a polar bear population already stressed due to massive climate change, these activities could be the last straw,” said Kassie Siegel, the climate director at the US-based Centre for Biological Diversity.
She continued saying that the censoring of the Arctic report was stereotypical of the actions of the White House. “It fits a pattern of downplaying, denying, and suppressing climate science at every turn. It’s all part of the Bush-Cheney strategy of handing out as many fossil fuel entitlements as quickly as they can in their final months in office.”
And while indeed the Chukchi Sea is believed to hold a veritable booty of energy reserves – estimated at 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – one must wonder just what priority should come first.
Photo Courtesy of jameschipmunk via Flickr