For Immediate Release
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Drew McConnville, The Wilderness Society, (202) 429-7441
Annie Strickler, Sierra Club, (202) 675-2384
Vinay Jain, National Wildlife Federation, (202) 797-6894
“ENVIRONMENTALLY GENTLE” DRILLING CAUSES MAJOR CRUDE OIL SPILL — POTENTIALLY LARGEST IN ALASKA NORTH SLOPE HISOTRY
Washington, DC – March 7, 2006 – Last week during the Senate Energy Committee’s hearing on the Fiscal Year 2007 Budget, Chairman Domenici praised Secretary Norton and the Department of Interior for promoting “environmentally-gentle” oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Just days after these remarks, America got an unfortunate preview of just how “gentle” oil drilling operations could be if allowed on the Arctic Refuge’s fragile Coastal Plain.
On Thursday, March 2, a BP oil operator discovered signs of an oil spill at a caribou migration site on the snow-covered tundra of Alaska’s North Slope. Three days later, response workers finally uncovered the source of the spill – a breach in an oil transit pipeline feeding into the larger trans-Alaska oil pipeline infrastructure stretching some 800 miles across the state.
Clean-up crews have already vacuumed up more than 50,000 gallons of crude oil and melted snow off the delicate tundra but at least one report from an industry expert has indicates that this spill could be the largest crude oil spill in the history of North Slope – second in Alaska only to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Oil is still dripping from the breached pipeline and the full extent of the damage and affected acreage are unknown. The multi-agency spill response team will attempt to come up with an estimated spill volume in the next two days.
This weekend’s accident is just one in a long history of substantial spills seen on Alaska’s fragile North Slope since development began there. In fact, despite industry hype about the safety of development and new technology, the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and Trans-Alaska Pipeline have caused an average of 504 spills annually on the North Slope since 1996, according to the Alaska’s own Department of Environmental Conservation. Past spills have included a 300,000 crude oil spill from the Trans-Alaska pipeline that was detected as far as 166 miles away; a 110,000 gallon crude oil spill caused by a bulldozer which created a geyser that spewed oil over 20 acres of tundra wetlands; the infamous 285,000 gallons of crude oil that spilled into the boreal forest after a local hunter shot the pipeline with a high powered rifle; and the disastrous 675,000 gallons that were leaked after a saboteur exploded a two inch hole in the pipeline just a few miles north of Fairbanks.
As crews of up to 70 people work 12-hour shifts around the clock to clean up after this massive oil spill, we are sadly reminded that there is no such thing as “environmentally gentle” oil drilling. Some places, like America’s Arctic Refuge, are just too important to be put at risk for a speculative oil fix.
ALASKA WILDERNESS LEAGUE * ALASKA COALITION* DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE * EYAK PRESERVATION COUNCIL* LEAGUE OF CONSERVATION VOTERS * NATIONAL WIDLIFE FEDERATION * NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL * NORTHERN ALASKA ENVIRONMENTAL CENTER * PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP * REPUBLICANS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION * SIERRA CLUB * THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY