Credit: Laura L. Whitehouse FWS
America’s Arctic is an extraordinary place, and it has fired my imagination since I first conducted field research in coastal northwest Alaska in 1977. Although indigenous people have occupied and influenced Alaska’s coast for millennia, the Arctic coastal and marine ecosystem is still wild, pristine and productive. There is still largely a full complement of native fish and wildlife that not only persist, but thrive in the Arctic alongside human communities with vibrant cultures.
Since the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968 however, our attempts to access this energy have transformed the landscape of the central Arctic and prompted many changes for the people who live and work, study and recreate in the region. And the pace of change is only accelerating.
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Ocean Conservancy Map of important ecological areas near the recent rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico
Less than 24 hours after the US Government announced historic criminal fines for BP’s activities leading up to and following the BP oil disaster, an explosion on a production platform about 25 miles south of Grand Isle, LA left several workers injured, one man dead and another missing. The owner of the rig, Black Elk Energy, announced today that they were calling off the search for the missing worker.
This tragic event is a somber reminder that accidents can and do happen despite our best efforts to prevent them. Whether in the Gulf of Mexico or the Chukchi Sea (off Alaska’s Arctic coast), fossil fuel extraction carries risks to the workers as well as to sensitive environmental resources.
When an event like the explosion on the Black Elk rig occurs, it is natural and appropriate to focus first on the well-being of those involved in a tragedy and then on the recovery and restoration of our natural resources, but it is critical to remember that we must also ensure that we are better prepared for the accidents and disasters that will inevitably occur.
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