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Arctic Oil Drilling Threatens Polar Bear Birthing Grounds

Rocky Kistner

Posted February 8, 2012

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Up in the frozen arctic, where polar bear rule over a biogem world, massive oil drilling plans threaten the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Shell, the oil behemoth that made $4.8 billion in profits last quarter, intends to boost those numbers by drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska. And the Obama Administration appears eager to help them.

Last year Shell was granted approval to conduct exploratory deepwater drilling operations in one of the most fragile ecosystems—and most hazardous environments—on the planet. This month, federal regulators may approve Shell’s cleanup response plan in this remote area that is a thousand miles from modern ports and oil industry infrastructure. If approved, Shell could send its drilling fleet out into the arctic this summer to bore into the seabed, searching for the black gold oil industry execs have been salivating over for decades. The problem is, drilling in these remote, harsh arctic environments involve huge risks and threatens all forms of life, including the arctic's most iconic creature, the polar bear. 

Check out the hazards oil drilling will pose to unique polar bear birthing grounds in this new NRDC video, narrated by Robert Redford. Go to to find out how you can help tell the Obama Administration to deny Shell its final drilling permit. 



As the ice slowly thaws in these pristine Alaskan waters and the snow retreats with the warming winds of spring, pregnant polar bears will begin an annual trek to birthing grounds this summer. But for the first time, a massive oil drilling operation and a flotilla of support ships may also join their arctic habitat. Some wonder if this is just the beginning a oil platform invasion that could turn this immaculate seascape into an oil-rig studded Gulf of Mexico.

Let’s hope not. We all have pretty short memories if we don’t remember the horrendous consequences of oil drilling operations off our more hospitable southern shores, where a disaster still unfolds and impacts to fisheries, wildlife and human health have yet to be counted or fully known.    

But in the frozen north, an oil disaster could be far worse—and irreparable. As we know from the Exxon Valdez fiasco, the ecology of Alaska's northern seas is even more sensitive to the assault of toxic petroleum compounds, assaults that are continuing more than two decades later. NRDC President Frances Beinecke, a member of the presidential commission that investigated the Deepwater Horizon, blogged about it this way;

By allowing drilling into the Arctic Ocean before the government and the industry have addressed the failures that led to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement is taking a dangerous gamble. Residents, fishermen, business owners and all the people who love the Gulf of Mexico can tell us who pays the price for such recklessness. 

We have seen the price of drilling in the Gulf and witnessed hollow oil industry promises that catastrophic accidents will not happen. The sad truth is that nearly two years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, we still are no closer to passing crucial federal laws to protect us from increasingly dangerous drilling practices that push further into more hazardous offshore environments.

So should we believe the industry that brought us Exxon Valdez and the Deepwater Horizon that oil blowouts can be contained and controlled in the frigid oceans of the arctic? The video sums it up best; if the oil industry couldn’t stop and clean up its cataclysm in the Gulf of Mexico, then how will it clean up an arctic blowout faced with 20-foot surging seas, gale force winds and subzero temperatures?  

Let’s hope we don’t leave it to the polar bears to figure that out.

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Treena LivesleyFeb 8 2012 04:53 PM

This is the last great wilderness on earth and it needs protecting.

Ed GallagherFeb 9 2012 06:23 AM

Chicken little would be proud. These little missive from the hate human and zero growth patio club become more and more strident . We are talking about a relative handful of acres in the massive wilderness. If the EPA under Obama approved this you can be sure there is a billion dollars of redundancy of safeguards. We can't play "What if all the crabs come out of the ocean at the same time" with our national energy policy.

Sunny Van ZylFeb 9 2012 07:05 AM

Pass the pop corn, I thought I was reading a Disney script. What dribble. Complete misuse of information. Yes there are polar bears, yes there are oil rigs, yes someone doesn't have a clue about his subject.

Carolyn LumsdenFeb 9 2012 07:40 AM

Nature is very resiliant. those of us who live in the country know that. I have a cousin who works on the oil project in Prudue Bay and he told us the wildlife love the warm pipelines - they winter under them and breed where the temps are warmer. We live in an area of urbanization now and it is amazing the amount of wildlife that has adapted their lives here - we have black bear, wolves, coyotes, bobcat, lynx, and all sorts of smaller animals that have move here and thrive. They have adapted well to the populationk, traffic and noise. Other animals adapt well to other conditions also. I really don't think the polar bears will have much difficulty adjusting. More stringent rules are now in place for oil drilling, etc. We should not be dependent on the volitility of mid-Eastern oil when the people there don't want the U.S. anywhere near them. Let them deal with other countries if they find that more acceptable. With our oil money, it seems more problems are arising all the time in that area. Again, I think the polar bears will adapt like all over creatures have in the past. Few in the U.S. have become extinct in the last years populations have expanded to our country. Thank you for reading my comments.

JonZFeb 9 2012 08:32 AM

Ditto: Carolyn, Ed and Sunny!!!!
Rocky Kistner, are you a member of the Sierra Club by chance???

Fred CampbellFeb 9 2012 09:07 AM

Mr Kistner is clueless as to the "threat" of oil development..
If NRDC is truly in favor of protecting the environment it will limit itself to carefully researched and balanced articles.
Unfortunately, it is apparently impossible for the editors to get past their own biases and publish truly measured analyses of environment issues.

Kim HrubesFeb 9 2012 10:31 AM

One little problem with this narrative. Polar bears give birth in ice caves over the polar winter, not in the summer. They emerge in spring. I can't see how any of the drilling would affect this.

Don HornishFeb 9 2012 10:52 AM

This is simply not true! Its just another ploy that the worthless EPA is trying to pull over on the American people. They tried to the same thing with the Elk population a few years ago and it was proven that they actually increased in numbers. So this article should most definitely be discredited!

Steve ArmourFeb 9 2012 01:50 PM

robert redford is as dillusional as algore. If you go to the gulf coast now you can hardlytell that there was a "disaster" there 1.5 years ago. There is more evidence of katrina than an oil spill. Try controlling the natural disasters.
On the coast of ANWR that they want to drill on, it is so inhospitable that nothing goes there. And shell is drilling offshore, last time I looked the bears birthed onshore.

Clarence CrosbyFeb 9 2012 03:00 PM

Humanity first , polar bears second . I am sure professional wildlife conservationist can come up with the means to protect ALL wildlife there , just as they did with the caribou herds with the pipeline project .

Harley NorbyFeb 10 2012 01:32 AM

More environmentalist dribble to assure the oil barons of the middle east will be able to buy a new fleet of Bugatti Veyrons soon. Wake up America.

Tina MorrisonFeb 10 2012 04:11 PM

It is truly scary that Shell is planning on drilling here. If you think everything is ok in the Gulf, you are being fooled by BP's massive ad campaign. Look a little further - people in the gulf region have blogs out there that are easily found online telling of their health problems, fish with lesions on them, dolphins' young washing up dead, etc. This in an area where it isn't near as harsh as the Arctic.

Grandma ChrisFeb 13 2012 06:53 AM

Did you know that polar bear population is 5 times what it was in the 70's? This same scare tactic was tried to prevent oil drilling and pipelines using the Caribou as the animal at risk. Meanwhile, the Caribou LOVE the oil pipeline and have increased population as a result.

Please read this scientific article on polar bears:

and Here's the actual facts on the same arguments and the effects on the Caribou

Facts are annoying things to liberals who would like us to be living in caves.

By the way, there is NO global warming and CO2 (what we breathe out) is not polluting our air. WAKE UP and check the facts!

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