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The US Is Unprepared to Clean Up Arctic Oil Spill

Coast Guard issues warning as House considers opening Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling

This article originally appeared in Oil Change International.

For months now America’s climate denying President, Donald Trump, has been manoeuvring to open up the Arctic to oil drilling, in another act of defiance against his predecessor, Barak Obama.

photo of coast guard in Arctic Photo by Coast Guard News A US Coast Guard icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean. The Coast Guard has warned that the US is unprepared to clean up oil in the icy Arctic waters.

Back in April, Trump signed an executive order to extend offshore oil and gas drilling to large parts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans.

“We’re opening it up…. Today we’re unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying American energy jobs,” Trump said as he signed the America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.

The executive order instructed the Interior Department to re-examine policies put into place by Obama, who in one of his last acts as President had restricted offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic until 2022. Obama had banned drilling in both areas saying they were “simply not right to lease.”

As Trump signed the order his Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, told reporters “We’re going to look at everything. A new administration should look at the policies and make sure the policies are appropriate.”

Last month, the White House made further attempts to overturn the Obama administration’s five-year plan forbidding oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.

Interior Secretary Zinke said in a speech: “There’s a consequence when you put 94 percent of our offshore off limits. There’s a consequence of not harvesting trees. There’s a consequence of not using some of our public lands for creation of wealth and jobs.”

Then earlier this month, the Trump administration granted Italian oil company Eni the right to drill exploratory wells off the coast of Alaska. As InsideClimate News reported “Eni’s leases were exempt from Obama’s ban because the leases are not new.”

In response, Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “An oil spill here would do incredible damage, and it’d be impossible to clean up.”

And now in a devastating uncompromising rebuke to Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the head of the US Coast Guard has agreed with the Center for Biological Diversity: The United States cannot successfully clean up an oil spill in the Arctic.

Admiral Paul Zukunft, who was the Federal on-scene coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, told a Washington symposium hosted by the US Arctic Research Commission and NOAA that they would not recover all the oil if there was a spill in the Artic.

Zukunft  started his speech to the Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations, warning about how climate change was changing the Arctic, with glaciers retreating and ice disappearing due to “polar acceleration.”

“You have got to understand what is happening to high latitudes," he said, before adding you have to see what is happening “first hand” and “how it is affecting the whole globe around us.”

He then went on to talk about oil spills: “I can assure you that if there is an oil spill, we’re not going to recover all that oil. On the best of days, during the Deepwater Horizon cleanup, we maybe recovered 15 percent of that oil. And when I say recovered we burnt it, we dispersed it and it was flat calm and we had a fleet of over 6,000 ships out there doing recovery operations, and we had the infrastructure to support all of that.”

“Now you put that many people up in Barrow, Alaska. They better be carrying polar bear spray, because they’re going to be camped out with mosquito’s as we don’t have the infrastructure up there.”

He ended by warning: “We don’t know what Mother Nature would do and we don’t know the long term impacts to one of the most pristine environments in the world. Its not an area we want to oil and then find out after the fact.”

He was not alone: The former chief Navy oceanographer Rear Admiral Jonathan White told the conference there was still no proven methods of cleaning up an oil spill in ice.

Their warnings come as the House begins the process of trying to open up drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, long seen as one of the last true wilderness areas in the US.

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