EXXON VALDEZ OIL SPILL: Ten Years Later Technical Background Paper for Alaska Wilderness League
by Pamela A. Miller, Arctic Connections 3/99
This paper was accessed in June 2014 at http://arcticcircle.uconn.edu/SEEJ/Alaska/miller2.htm
I am satisfied that tanker traffic to and from Port Valdez, and operation of an oil port there will not cause any significant damage to the marine environment or to fisheries interests.”
–L.R. Beyon, British Petroleum Environmental Studies speaking for Alyeska in 1971
Our nation’s largest oil spill.
Four minutes after midnight on March 24, 1989 the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Eleven million gallons of oil spewed into one of the most bountiful marine ecosystems in the world. It killed birds, marine mammals, and fish and devastated the ecosystem in the oil’s path. North Slope crude spoiled lands and waters that had sustained Alaska Native people for millennia.
Exxon says that the Sound has recovered. They’re wrong.
Could it happen again?
Before the Exxon Valdez spill, conservationists warned about the potential impacts of a major spill. In fact, just hours before the disaster, a group of Valdez residents had gathered at the city council chambers to discuss the impact of oil on their community. When the conversation turned to response to a major spill, Dr. Riki Ott, a fisherwoman and toxicologist from Cordova said, “It’s not a matter of what if, but when.”
Today, conservationists are again sounding the alarm about several risky oil development schemes and practices in Alaska.
- First, the vast majority of oil shipped from Valdez is carried in aging tankers. Few have double-hulls and those are more than 20 years old.
- Second, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which carries oil from the North Slope to the port of Valdez, is aging, mismanaged, and in dire need of additional repairs. In the last 20 years, there have been dozens of leaks, and workers have been continually mistreated or intimidated from reporting the company’s environmental abuses to regulators.
- Third, British Petroleum’s proposed Northstar project would require the construction of the first ever sub-sea crude oil pipeline in the Arctic Ocean. Buried beneath the sea ice, leaks from the pipeline would be difficult to detect and impossible to clean up. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates there is up to a one-in-four (11-24%) chance of a major spill at Northstar.
- Lastly, BP, ARCO, Chevron and Exxon are lobbying Congress for the right to erect hundreds of miles of pipelines, roads, drilling pads, gravel mines, and other industrial facilities in the biological heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – its 1.5 million acre coastal plain. Known as “America’s Serengeti” for its abundance of wildlife, the Arctic Refuge is critical denning habitat for polar bears, calving grounds for caribou, and home to wolves, muskoxen, and millions of migratory birds. The U.S. Interior Department warns development of the coastal plain could lead to major declines in wildlife populations and forever alter the fragile tundra landscape.
Ironically, the American Petroleum Institute wrote in a New York Times letter on March 24, 1989, “the petroleum industry would develop the potentially vast resources of the coastal plain (of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) with great care and utilize the increasingly sophisticated environmental technology available.” A key Senate Committee had passed legislation allowing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge just a week prior to the spill. A week after the catastrophe, President George Bush still saw “no connection” between the Exxon Valdez spill and the push for new Arctic oil development; Senator Frank Murkowski continued to promote drilling in the Arctic Refuge.
This changed quickly as the reality set in. “The train was moving pretty rapidly out of the station,” said Senator Joe Leiberman, “Now they’ve put the brakes on it and put it into reverse.” An Arctic Refuge drilling bill introduced in the House of Representatives the day before the spill was dead on arrival. Returning from Valdez, Congressman George Miller said “leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil development would be irresponsible in the wake of the huge Exxon spill.” He launched investigations (which lasted many years) into the entire oil production and transportation system in Alaska, saying that the spill was “no accident… but rather the tragic result of a systematic assault by the oil industry that rendered ineffective the entire system of regulatory safeguards.”
“Despite what President Bush has stated, there is a direct, inescapable connection between the Arctic and Prince William Sound,” said the Sierra Club’s Michael Fisher. They are connected by the same regulations, the same contingency plans, the same processes, the same product and the same politics.” His reflections to the Senate are as apt today as in the immediate aftermath of the spill:
“But it doesn’t take a disaster to destroy wilderness. The hundreds of miles of pipelines, roads, docks, causeways, airstrips, the thousands of personnel, the constant roar of trucks, planes, and the drilling equipment itself destroy the wilderness even if it is carried on with immaculate care….
We all mourn for Prince William Sound and the life that is no more. And it is also common to feel anger. Anger over broken promises. Anger over lies. Anger over greed, arrogance, and ineptitude. Anger that so few can destroy so much. Anger can be constructive, but only if we use its energy to undertake constructive tasks. Let us apply ourselves to protect our wild places, our last wild places, from ever being victims of another disaster.”
Effects of the spill.
Extent of the spill. In the 1989 spill, crude oil spread across Alaska’s coastal seas covering 10,000 square miles, an area the size of Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, and 25 Washington, D.C.’s combined!
Within a week, currents and winds pushed the slick 90 miles from the site of the tanker, out of Prince William Sound into the Gulf of Alaska. It eventually reached nearly 600 miles away from the wreckcontaminating 1,500 miles of shoreline– about the length of California’s coast.
Highest toll of birds and mammals ever
“What surprised me most was the silence.”
— Dan Lawn, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, April 9, 1989
The spill hit just as the coast stirred with spring life. Zooplankton and phytoplankton beginning to bloom. Salmon fry emerging from gravel beds in freshwater streams, herring returning to spawn. Soon, migratory birds began nesting. It was just before peak pupping for sea otters, seals, and sea lions, and when marine mammals concentrate in coastal waters to eat herring, krill, and salmon.
More marine mammals and birds died than in any other oil spill. Some populations, like harbor seal, were already declining so the spill added insult to injury. Only 2 of 26 species studied by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council have recovered (bald eagle and river otter). “The Exxon Valdez spill killed nearly ten times as many birds as any other U.S. or European oil spill,” said seabird expert Dr. Michael Fry. As many as half a million birds died. Over 30,000 carcasses of 90 species of birds were plucked from the beaches, but this is only a fraction of the actual mortality. Harm to birds from chronic effects and decreased reproduction continues to the present.
Some fish died but the most serious damage was to their critical spawning and rearing habitats. Salmon spawn in the intertidal zone, herring in the subtidal zone on kelp, and Dolly varden and cutthroat trout feed in shallow water. Over 100 salmon streams were oiled.
STATE OF THE SOUND
Toxic effects linger.
To the naked eye, Prince William Sound may appear “normal.” But if you look beneath the surface, oil continues to contaminate beaches, national parks, and designated wilderness. In fact, the Office of Technology Assessment estimated beach cleanup and oil skinning only recovered 3-4% of the Exxon Valdez oil and studies by government scientists estimated that only 14% of the oil was removed during cleanup operations.
A decade later, the ecosystem still suffers. Substantial contamination of mussel beds persists and this remarkably unweathered oil is a continuing source of toxic hydrocarbons. Sea otters, river otters, Barrow’s goldeneyes, and harlequin ducks have showed evidence of continued hydrocarbon exposure in the past few years.
The depressed population of Pacific herring – a critical source of food for over 40 predators including seabirds, harbor seals and Steller sea lions – is having severe impacts up the food chain. Wildlife population declines continue for harbor seal, killer whales, harlequin ducks, common loon, pigeon guillemot, and pelagic, red-faced cormorant, and double-crested cormorants.
Exxon-funded scientists have repeatedly dismissed evidence of on-going effects to wildlife from the massive 1989 oil spill by claiming that oil seeps contribute a bigger background source of hydrocarbons in bottom sediments in Prince William Sound. Yet, they dismiss coal as a possible source due to ignoring location of known deposits and other factors about its “fingerprint.” A new study by the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded that the source is coal, and that coal hydrocarbons are not chemically available to impact wildlife.
Oil is more toxic than thought.
Even before the spill, scientists knew that a drop of oil could kill a bird’s egg. But after studying the impact of the Valdez spill, they now believe oil pollution is at least 100 times more toxic to fish than previously known. It is also more persistent.
In Katmai National Park wilderness, oil remained along the rocky coast with only slight weathering compared to freshly spilled oil after more than 5 years. Chemically, it was like 11-day old Exxon Valdez crude, with high concentrations of toxic polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s). In the past, it was presumed that wave action would have rapidly removed oil in such areas. Future releases of toxic oil can still affect wildlife.
New studies by the National Marine Fisheries Service show that even very low levels of weathered Exxon Valdez oil (0.5 to 1 part per billion PAH’s) are toxic at the early life stages of salmon and herring. This data on toxicity to salmon eggs shows that current Alaska water quality standards allow hydrocarbon levels that can impair reproduction.
Exxon Valdez spill resulted in profound physiological effects to fish and wildlife. These included reproductive failure, genetic damage, curved spines, lowered growth and body weights, altered feeding habits, reduced egg volume, liver damage, eye tumors, and debilitating brain lesions.
Lasting Harm to Communities.
“The excitement of the season had just begun, and then, we heard the news, oil in the water, lots of oil killing lots of water. It’s too shocking to understand. Never in the millennium of our tradition have we thought it possible for the water to die, but its true.”
— The late Chief Walter Meganack, Port Graham, 1989
- Subsistence harvests of fish and wildlife substantially declined by Alaska Native communities after the spill and continue to be affected.
- Villagers have been forced to rely on different resources since there is still a scarcity of important subsistence resources like harbor seals, herring, clams, and crab. Hunters must travel farther, spend more time, money and effort to feed their families.
- “The oil spill with its devastation affected our subsistence way of life and resources,” said Gary Kompkoff from the village of Tatitlek in 1999. “Subsistence is too important to have recovered from an incident caused by carelessness and negligence. We always have been able to rely on the land to provide for us—to be forced to stop harvesting in traditional areas we’ve always relied upon is hard to get over.”
- Commercial salmon and herring fisheries closed in oiled areas in 1989, including in Prince William Sound, most of Cook Inlet, and most of the Kodiak area. Shrimp, blackcod, bottomfish and crab fisheries were also closed.
- Five years after the spill, 100 fishing boats blockaded tanker traffic at Valdez Narrows for 2 days when wild pink salmon runs plummeted. These fish were the first wild runs that left Prince William Sound during the oil spill. Banks had already repossessed 70 Cordova fishing boats. In 1993, the Pacific herring season in the Sound was cut short when schools failed to show up, and in 1994 to 1996 the season never opened. The herring fishery remained limited in 1997 and 1998.
- Ten years after the spill, and five years after a jury ordered Exxon to pay $5 billion in punitive damages, Exxon has yet to pay any of this judgement to injured fishermen, Native Americans, and landowners.
- 20 communities were in the oil’s path where it caused major social and psychological impact like depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This injury continues in places like Cordova today.
- Cleanup workers faced average oil mist exposure 12 times in excess of the regulatory limits, with a maximum exposure 400 times higher during hot water beach washing. In 1989, 1,811 workers filed compensation claims, primarily for respiratory system damage, according to National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
****** CHART *********** CONTINUING TOLL
Sea otters — 3,500 to 5,500 died. Continued exposure to hydrocarbons in 1998. Populations in heavily oiled bays not recovered.
Harbor seals — 300 died. Most seals and pups oiled at contaminated haulouts. From 1989 to 1997, the population has declined 35% and continues downward.
Killer whales – Up to 22 died. Unprecedented mortality of females with calves. Males with collapsed dorsal fins subsequently died. Not recovered.
Common murres — 175,000-300,000 killed. Minimum of 300,000 chicks lost, complete breeding failures at several large colonies from 1989 to 1991. El nino has set back recovery that was occurring.
Other seabirds — 375,000 to 435,000 died. Declines of 16 species compared with earlier baseline surveys, including loons, black oystercatchers, pigeon guillemots, pelagic and red-faced cormorants, scoters, Barrow’s goldeneye, mergansers. Not recovered.
Harlequin ducks — 400-1,000 died. Decreased molting populations and wintering survival for females in oiled areas, and evidence of exposure to hydrocarbons in tissues through 1998. Not recovered.
Marbled murrelets – 12,800 to 14,800 died. A large part of the world’s population at risk from the spill; Prince William Sound numbers declined 67% since the 1970’s. Population continued to decline to 1991. Not recovered.
Loons – 395 carcasses, 4 loon species. Common loons have small, slow reproducing populations. Not recovering.
Pacific herring — Most salmon spawning and feeding habitats in Prince William Sound were oiled, causing egg and larval mortality and physical deformities. Unprecedented population crash in 1993, first year eggs laid in 1989 should have returned. Not recovered.
Pink salmon — Increased mortality of eggs in oiled streams. Lower adult survival and juvenile growth rates and gross abnormalities in young fish in oiled streams. Oil-spill related collapses in pink salmon populations in 1992 and 1993. Some spawning streams still oiled. Not recovered.
Dolly varden — Lower adult survival through 1991 in oiled areas. Rate of recovery unknown.
Cutthroat trout – At its northwest limit in Prince William Sound, its isolated ranges are highly vulnerable to pollution. Lower rates of growth persisted through 1991. Recovery rate unknown.
Rockfish, other marine fish — Rockfish died from ingestion of oil and had sublethal injuries. Hydrocarbons were found in halibut; pollack; rock, yellowfin, Dover, and flathead sole; Pacific cod; and sablefish. Recovery rates unknown.
National Parks — Oiled Kenai Fiords, Katmai, and Aniakchak National Park and Preserve. Buried oil remains in park beaches.
National Wildlife Refuges — Kodiak, Alaska Peninsula/ Becharof, Alaska Maritime refuges oiled. Resources not recovered.
Chugach National Forest — Wilderness study area oiled. Forest resources still injured.
Designated Wilderness — Oiled Katmai National Park, Becharof National Wildlife Refuge, Kenai Fiords National Park wilderness study area, and Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park. Invasion of more than 11,000 clean up workers, boats, and helicopters on remote beaches harmed wilderness values throughout spill area. Permanent loss.
Intertidal Communities – 1,500 miles of beaches harmed. Recent studies revealed that even on “cleaned-up” washed beaches, mollusks and other invertebrates were far less abundant than on comparable unspoiled beaches. Not recovered.
Subtidal Communities – Habitats providing shelter and food for an array of fishes, birds, and marine mammals were oiled, killing snails, clams, sea urchins, and invertebrates. Evidence of oil contamination in sediments, reduced abundance of clams and altered community composition persists. Not recovered.
Archeological Sites — 24 sites were damaged by the spill and cleanup. Permanent injury.
America’s Public Lands – American’s were outraged and saddened by the Exxon Valdez spill. A study of the lost aesthetic and intrinsic values derived simply from knowing that the resources exist (“passive use”) estimated the damage to Americans at $2.8 billion. Permanent loss to a priceless place.
************** END CHART ***************
HOT SPOTS MAP—The Next “Exxon Valdez”?
AREN’T THEY ALL DOUBLE-HULLED TANKERS, NOW?
- Vast majority of oil shipped from Valdez today is carried in aging tankers with higher risk of leaking. Few [only 3 of 26] have double-hulls and those are more than 20 years old.
No. In fact, there are not any more double-hull tankers in the Valdez fleet today than there were in 1989. Most North Slope crude oil is not shipped in double-hulled tankers. Exxon and other oil companies could have immediately replaced single-hull tankers with double-hull tankers, but instead got a phase-in period. Now, they are trying to use a loophole for further delay in replacing the aging fleet (average age is 21 years old) with double-hulled tankers. Today, only 10% of the Valdez tanker fleet has double-hulls (only 3 of 26 tankers), and even those ships are out-dated (more than 20 years old). Only Arco has ordered double-hulled tankers, and construction is delayed due to low oil prices.
CONTINUED RISK OF TANKER SPILLS
“We have adequate knowledge for dealing with oil spills and improvements in techniques and equipment are continuing to become available through worldwide research. The best equipment, materials and expertise which will be made available as part of the oil spill contingency plan will make operations at Port Valdez and Prince William Sound the safest in the world…
–L.R. Beyon, British Petroleum speaking for Alyeska in 1971
- In January, 1999 Alyeska flunked surprise oil spill drill in Valdez and laid off spill responders. Up to a dozen major tanker spills are predicted in the future from cumulative North Slope oil production.
In February, 1999 ice cracked the hull and oil leaked from the Cheasapeake Trader, a tanker also used in the Valdez fleet, while it was on a run in Cook Inlet. Icebergs calving from the Columbia glacier at increasing rates pose higher risks to tankers in Prince William Sound (new radar systems still can’t detect the ice). Remember, the Exxon Valdez had changed course to avoid ice in the tanker lanes. High winds in February, 1999 halted loading in Valdez because oil booms surrounding the tankers could not be deployed.
In January, 1999 Alyeska Pipeline Service Company flunked a surprise oil spill drill in Valdez because staff didn’t response quickly enough and were inadequately trained. Alyeska had just announced plans to lay off 5 oil spill response workers who were part of the initial response team for the Valdez Marine terminal. A tanker came close to grounding in Valdez Narrows in 1996.
In 1995, citizens and organizations from Cordova to Kodiak went to court to demand improvements in the tanker spill contingency plan; the controversy has yet to be fully resolved. These and other problems with oil spill contingency planning and response continue in Prince William Sound, despite required improvements called for by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 passed in the wake of the spill.
In 1990, the Alaska Oil Spill Commission predicted a catastrophic spill is expected about every 13 years for the Valdez tanker trade. The Department of the Interior recently estimated there would be 7 to 12 new tanker spills (9-14 million gallons) along the entire transportation route from Valdez to lower 48 ports from the cumulative effect of Arctic oil production.
ALYESKA: TRANS-ALASKA PIPELINE PROBLEMS
- The Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which carries oil from the North Slope to the port of Valdez, is aging, mismanaged, and in dire need of additional repairs. In the last 20 years, there have been dozens of leaks, and workers have been continually mistreated or intimidated from reporting the company’s environmental abuses to regulators.
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline snakes 800 miles from Valdez to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. It is operated by Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., a consortium of seven major oil companies. Three companies having the largest stakes in North Slope oil fields own over 90% of Alyeska – ARCO (23%), BP (50%), and Exxon (20%).
In the wake of the Exxon Valdez, a Wall Street Journal investigation exposed broken promises by Alyeska not only at Valdez but along the entire Trans-Alaska Pipeline. It said, “Alyeska Record Shows How Big Oil Neglected Alaskan Environment: Pipeline firm cut corners and scrapped safeguards, raising risk of disaster.”
Congress held hearings in 1991 and 1993 revealing that Alyeska had spied on its detractors to silence them, then harassed and fired employees who were discovering and reporting operating problems along the Pipeline. A Bureau of Land Management audit found thousands of electrical code violations and other problems that led to a multi-year repair program. In 1996, 20,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from buried pipe prior to being found. Repairs continue to be needed. Alyeska’s promise to end whistleblower harassment and intimidation has yet to materialize. Several pipeline valves still aren’t closing or sealing properly. Problems with a key valve that is supposed to keep oil out of the Yukon River in the event of a line break were identified in 1995 but that valve has yet to be replaced. Upgrades to a communication system subject to frequent failures and a leak-detection system that had never detected a leak are still underway.
Under Alaska law, an oil facility cannot operate without an oil spill contingency plan (C-Plan) that must be reviewed and approved every three years. In 1997, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation rejected Alyeska’s proposed Trans-Alaska Pipeline C-Plan as insufficient for public review; by the time the plan was approved it was over a year late. Meanwhile, the Pipeline kept running with inadequate planned response. Along its route—800 river crossings and three mountain ranges at risk of spills.
SPILL A DAY IN PRUDHOE BAY
- There is more than a spill a day in the Prudhoe Bay Oil Fields. Oil company paid $3 million in EPA fines in 1998 for illegal drilling waste dumping at the Endicott oil field, touted as one of the most environmentally and technologically advanced.
On Alaska’s North Slope, there has been an average of 427 spills each year since 1996 from oil industry activities, according to Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation records. Over 1.2 million gallons spilled in this 3-year period. Diesel and crude oil spills are most common.
About 40 different substances from acid to waste oil were spilled from routine oil field operations. Hydraulic oil, ethylene glycol, produced water, methanol, engine lube oil, drilling muds, seawater, corrosion inhibitors, and halon were also frequently dumped. The largest spill occurred at a site where drilling wastes are injected below the ground; produced water seeped from 9 wellheads at a rate of 420-9600 gallons per minute resulting in the largest spill (994,400 gallons). There were also diesel, crude, and produced water spills greater than 5,000 gallons. Spills were most commonly caused by leaks, ruptured lines, valves that were faulty or left open, seal failures, tanker overfills, faulty connections, vent discharges, and corrosion. Spills were due to vehicles breaking through the ice, crashing, rolling over, and collisions; grounding, hull failure, explosion, fire, high winds, and other factors. Few of these spills received any detailed study.
The Exxon Valdez studies show petroleum hydrocarbons pose higher risks to fish and wildlife than previously known and that there is long-lasting ecological damage. A earlier study of diesel spills in Alaska’s arctic showed that 28 years later there were still substantial toxic hydrocarbons in the soil and little vegetation recovery. Even relatively small spills, such as ethylene glycol, have caused death when polar bears lick it up. Produced water or seawater spilled from wells and pipelines kill vegetation with long-lasting damage. The oil industry often says that many oil spills are to gravel pads, not directly to tundra, implying there are no consequences but many of these sites become severely contaminated.
Two recent examples of illegal waste disposal at the Endicott and Alpine oil fields show continued flawed practices. During horizontal drilling of the unprecedented Colville River pipeline crossing for ARCO’s Alpine field, 2.3 million gallons of drilling muds were lost under the river in 1998. It is still unknown where they ended up and if they will ultimately pollute Alaska’s largest arctic river.
At the Endicott oil field, illegal disposal of drilling wastes by drilling contractors to British Petroleum took place for five years. Workers were instructed to violate environmental regulations and inject hazardous waste oil and solvents into unsealed outer well shafts where drilling muds can be legally injected. However, substances can reach groundwater at such wells, and at the Endicott well some of the waste reached the surface and workers were exposed to hazardous fumes. The Federal Court fined Doyon Drilling Inc. $3 million in 1998, and the Justice Department criminal investigation continues. This problem came to light not from an environmental monitoring program, but due to a whistleblower’s actions.
EXPANSION ACROSS AMERICA’S ARCTIC
OR: CUMULATIVE IMPACTS ACROSS AMERICA’S ARCTIC
- Prudhoe Bay and 14 other producing oil fields have dramatically transformed a vast Arctic area since 1968. Anticipated development of known oil fields will substantially expand this to the east and west of Prudhoe Bay and transform the Beaufort Sea.
Prudhoe Bay and 14 other producing oil fields have dramatically transformed a vast Arctic area. The North Slope field infrastructure has been growing since discovery of oil in 1968. The oil fields already sprawl over more than 400 square miles of Alaska’s North Slope. Anticipated development of known oil fields will substantially expand this to the east and west of Prudhoe Bay and transform the Beaufort Sea.
Today, there are hundreds of miles of roads, over a thousand miles of pipelines, 2 refineries and 14 production plants, the largest gas handling plants in the world for re-injection of gas, and 12 gravel mines which mined 400% more gravel than predicted. More than 1,500 wells have been drilled at 160 exploratory and production gravel drilling pads, twice as many as predicted. About 22,000 acres of habitat have been directly filled or excavated due to the oil fields and Trans-Alaska Pipeline. The Prudhoe Bay oil fields caused major landscape impacts where indirect impacts to wetlands lagged behind construction and the total area eventually disturbed greatly exceeded the planned construction. 
More than 32 oil fields have been discovered on Alaska’s North Slope and adjacent offshore waters. On the periphery of the producing fields there may be 50 more satellite fields. The 15 oil fields currently being produced have reserves exceeding 18 billion barrels, of which oil companies have already extracted 12 billion barrels. Two giant heavy oil fields containing an estimated 18-40 billion barrels oil in place that were just starting to be tapped prior to the oil price crash may eventually surpass all other potential.
The State of Alaska plans to offer all its North Slope lands and Beaufort Sea waters from Canada to Barrow in annual area‑wide lease sales starting in 1999. The Federal government has scheduled its next Beaufort Sea OCS lease sale for the year 2001. In Sale 170 held in 1998, MMS deferred leasing off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge due to concern about cumulative impacts to its wilderness and wildlife habitat and subsistence. However, this sensitive area is still included in the next scheduled lease sale. 
NORTHSTAR: Untested risky subsea pipeline proposed for Arctic Ocean.
- British Petroleum’s proposed Northstar project would require the construction of the first ever sub-sea crude oil pipeline in the Arctic Ocean. Buried beneath the sea ice, leaks from the pipeline would be difficult to detect and impossible to clean up. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates up to a one-in-four chance of a major spill that could devastate polar bears, bowhead whales, and birds. Construction of the Northstar subsea pipeline will set into motion development of other offshore fields using this new technology, including off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The proposed Northstar offshore oil field would be the first oil production facilities to operate subsea crude oil pipelines below the Arctic Ocean. This unprecedented technology poses a great threat to the environment due to major oil spills from the pipelines buried in the seabed.
Hazardous sea ice conditions, such as ice ride-up, pack ice and broken ice movements, ice gouging, strudel scour, and currents pose dangers to project facilities and impede spill response. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation concluded that it is not technically possible to clean up a major oil spill during some weather and broken ice conditions [exact quote, “it is not technically possible to clean-up a RPS sized [major] spill during some periods of broken ice during spring break-up and fall freeze-up cycles. Using the best technology available in the world today, there will be some weather and ice conditions that will render the equipment ineffective or jeopardize the safety of spill response personnel”].
The Minerals Management Service estimates an 87-98% chance of a major spill from offshore development in the Beaufort Sea. There would be an 11-24% chance of a spill from the unprecedented Northstar oil field alone. A major spill from the Northstar oil field could hit the coastline of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge within 10 days. Some argue the risk of spills may be lower, but as with the Exxon Valdez, if a major spill occurs it could be disastrous to polar bears, endangered bowhead whales, and migratory birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that if 30 polar bears were oiled by a spill, it could take 15-30 years for the population to recover.
BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. began building ice roads to use for hauling gravel to the drilling island prior to completion of the final Environmental Impact Statement on the project. Environmentalists filed a lawsuit contesting the lack of proper State of Alaska permit review under the Alaska Coastal Zone Management Program.
The Northstar oil field subsea pipeline will set into motion development of other offshore fields using this new technology, including off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. By allowing areas of the Beaufort Sea and other areas of the Arctic not currently reachable to come into oil production, these new projects will lead to further industrialization of America’s Arctic. Of course, any oil from these fields would be pumped down the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and depart Alaska in tankers, risking future disastrous spills.
GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE
- Alaska already shows evidence of global warming such as permafrost melting, less snowcover, earlier spring, snowmelt, and decreased sea ice. The cumulative impacts from greenhouse gas emissions due to North Slope oil development (extraction, transportation and consumption of petroleum hydrocarbons) have not been analyzed. Polar bear populations may disappear.
It is important to look at the full ramifications of Arctic oil development, including its contribution to global climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions result from the extraction and production processes in the Arctic, as well as from tankers, refineries and the eventual consumption of the petroleum products. A recent study of greenhouse gas emissions based on measurements at Prudhoe Bay estimated these to be 11.4 million metric tons (C) per year, a rate four times greater than the total carbon emissions reported by the oil companies
Alaska Native people and western scientists have already documented effects of global climate change in the Arctic. Alaska has experienced dramatic warming and scientists predict temperature rise in the Arctic will be twice the world average in the next century.  Already there is increased permafrost melting, less snow cover, earlier snowmelt, and decreased sea ice thickness and extent. Alaska Native people have observed changes in the sea ice, tundra, and wildlife that affect their subsistence hunting and gathering. Polar bear populations could disappear due to loss of sea ice habitats used as their platforms for hunting ringed seals. Due to diminished sea ice, pregnant females may no longer reach coastal areas, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for denning. Warmer winters may cause increased collapse of maternity dens, crushing females and cubs as was observed along the Beaufort Sea coast.
NATIONAL PETROLEUM RESERVE – ALASKA
- For the first time in a decade, the U.S. Interior Department has proposed new leasing in 87% of the northeast corner of the National Petroleum Reserve‑Alaska. At this time of a world oil glut, there is no national need to lease the 4.6 million area for oil production. Permanent protection is needed for key wildlife habitats in Teshekpuk Lake, Colville River, and other Special Areas.
For the first time in a decade, the U.S. Interior Department has proposed new leasing for 87% of the northeast corner of the National Petroleum Reserve‑Alaska, an area originally set aside to supply the military with oil in 1923. At this time of a world oil glut, there is no national need to lease the area for oil production.
Although Interior’s plan deleted from leasing most of the internationally important brant molting habitat at Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, no permanent protection was proposed for the area. Leasing with some stipulations was allowed along the spectacular Colville River cliffs which have extraordinary concentrations of nesting peregrine falcons, gyrfalcons, and rough-legged hawks. Contained within the 4.6 million acre area to be leased include nesting habitat used by the threatened spectacled and Steller’s eiders, rare yellow-billed loons, tundra swans, and other wildlife.
ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE: A NEW BACKDOOR THREAT
- One of America’s great natural treasures, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge comprise one of the last places on earth where the complete range of arctic and subarctic lands remains protected. Threatened 3-D seismic oil exploration proposed by Senator Murkowski and Congressman Don Young would pry open “America’s Serengeti” to the multinational oil companies. Instead, permanent protection as designated wilderness is needed for the only 5% of Alaska’s North Slope closed by law to exploration or drilling.
In the far northeast corner of Alaska lies one of America’s great natural treasures, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Its 19 million acres comprise one of the last places on earth where the complete range of arctic and subarctic lands remains protected.
The day before the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted on a bill to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. It was dropped in the aftermath of the spill. Other attempts to plunder the refuge have been made: after the Gulf War in 1991 as part of President Bush’s National Energy Bill – stopped by a filibuster. In 1995, a drilling provision was slipped into the federal budget bill — vetoed by President Clinton.
Now, they want to pry open “America’s Serengeti” to the multinational oil companies by authorizing seismic oil exploration in the 1.5 million acre coastal plain. Senator Frank Murkowski first introduced legislation in 1998 to open the Arctic Refuge to 3-D seismic oil exploration under the guise of needing more geological information about oil potential. This environmentally destructive practice uses huge “thumper” trucks, or explosive charges of dynamite, bulldozers, and dozens of heavy vehicles to estimate how much oil may exist beneath the fragile tundra.
A limited 2-D seismic exploration program required by Congress was conducted during the winters of 1984 and 1985 (future seismic exploration, and oil and gas leasing and development on the coastal plain are prohibited). Studies by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded, “Recovery was not complete a decade after disturbance. The impacts that remained on medium and highly disturbed trails, such as changes in thaw depths, trail subsidence, changes to wetter conditions, distinct ruts, invasion of grasses and decreases in shrubs, may easily persist for another decade or more.”
The Clinton Administration has promised a veto of such a bill, and Interior Secretary Babbitt noted, “the transparent objective of people arguing for more information is to break open that refuge.” 
***** CHART *****
Oil industry claims about Arctic Refuge oil drilling echo earlier promises:
“…ANWR remains off-limits. The pretext used for this exclusion is the familiar one – the perceived threat of oil development to the area’s environment and wildlife. A quarter century of industry experience on Alaska’s North Slope refutes this notion. It has shown that development can proceed in a way that is fully compatible with arctic wildlife and the environment. And so, what we have is a policy that denies our nation real benefits based on unreal fears.”
— Lee R. Raymond, Chairman, Exxon Corporation
American Petroleum Institute Annual Meeting, 1996.
“…The Arctic Refuge coastal plain is unique among the refuges and parks of the United States.
…Impacts from development would be major, and measures to reduce or remediate those impacts are uncertain. For its biological richness, undisturbed vastness, and fragility as an arctic ecosystem, the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a national treasure, and would be irreparably altered by development.
— U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1995.
What’s at stake / Predicted impacts
Critical calving and post-calving habitat for Porcupine Caribou Herd for which there is no alternative. Over the past 25 years, the most consistently and heavily used calving area for the herd has been in the coastal plain “1002” area proposed for oil development. Nearly every year, all females and calves in the herd use the coastal plain “1002” area for post-calving, and in most years the majority of males also join them.
Oil exploration and development is predicted to have a major effect on the Porcupine Caribou Herd. “The cumulative effects of reduced access to habitat providing preferred forage, predator avoidance, or insect relief for the Porcupine Caribou Herd caused by full development of the [coastal plain] 1002 area would result in a major, adverse impact on the herd.” Female caribou avoid the North Slope oil fields with a dense network of production and support facilities, roads, pipelines, and vehicles. The cumulative effects of the Prudhoe Bay oil field and the Trans‑Alaska Pipeline caused displacement of caribou in the Central Arctic Herd from preferred calving areas, disruption of their movements, and reduced reproductive success. This loss of habitat continues to increase as new roads and pipelines expand across the North Slope. In the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Porcupine Caribou Herd which is much larger than the herd in the Prudhoe Bay area, has a more concentrated birthplace and nursery area which would be even more vulnerable to harm from a major industrial complex right in its heart.
The refuge coastal plain is the most important land-denning area for polar bears in the U.S.
Cumulative impacts from potential offshore developments, including major oil spills, are a concern with the polar bear population. Polar bears are especially sensitive to disturbance during denning. In 1985, a female polar bear, thought to be pregnant with her first litter, abandoned its den after seismic exploration vehicles tracked within 700′ of it– even though regulations required a larger buffer from known dens. This occurred despite the most extensive monitoring program ever in place for seismic exploration on the North Slope. Most maternity den sites are never known, and therefore cannot be avoided.
Muskox disappeared from Alaska’s Arctic more than 100 years ago; reintroduced to the refuge in 1969. They are the only large mammals to live year-round in the refuge, feeding along rivers in summer and windblown ridges in winter.
Major impacts to muskox populations are predicted from oil development. They would be subjected to cumulative impacts in both summer and winter. Disturbance from industrial operations would increase the energetic needs of this species that typically moves little in winter, resulting in decreased numbers of calves and higher winter mortality. Mining along rivers for gravel extraction would displace muskox from limited, preferred feeding areas and cause permanent habitat loss.
WOLVES, WOLVERINES, BROWN BEARS
These magnificent animals thrive in remote wilderness. Wolves and bears primarily den in the foothills and mountains south of the coastal plain in the refuge. Wolverines are infrequently observed but travel in all types of Arctic terrain and snowdrifts along small tundra streams may be used by females for dens. During spring, wolves and bears roam out to the coastal plain where they prey on newborn caribou.
Population declines or changes in distribution of brown bears and wolves predicted from increased mortality, decreased prey, harassment, and disturbance in denning areas. The cumulative effects of displacement, avoidance, and reduced food resources could result in long-term changes in wolverine distribution.
Over 135 species of birds from four continents nest, feed, or migrate to the refuge coastal plain. The greatest concentrations occur in coastal lagoons, tundra wetlands, and along rivers.
Permanent habitat loss from gravel drilling and production pads, roads, airports, and gravel mining. Indirect habitat loss caused by road dust, hydrological alteration, delayed snow melt along roads and ice roads. An oil spill in the lagoons during peak molting, staging, or migration periods predicted to have major impacts. In Prudhoe Bay, decreased nesting populations of 8 species of shorebirds were found along oil field roads.
The coastal plain provides essential fall staging habitat for up to 300,000 snow geese that nest in Canada. The birds feed like crazy, increasing their body fat by 400% in a few weeks in order to survive migration.
Aircraft use and other industrial activity from oil exploration and development would have widespread effects on snow goose distribution. Snow geese, especially young birds, need large undisturbed areas so they can get enough food to survive the 1,200 mile non-stop flight during migration before they rest and feed again.
ARCTIC CHAR, GRAYLING, AND OTHER FISH
Overwintering habitat for Arctic char (Dolly vaden), arctic grayling, and other fish is extremely limited in rivers and lakes in the refuge. Coastal waters contain marine and anadromous species including arctic char, arctic cisco, and arctic cod.
Major effects to limited overwintering habitats from water withdrawals. Major effects from oil spills in fish habitats. Anadromous fish habitat degradation in nearshore coastal waters from causeways, docks, and other facilities.
The Arctic Refuge fewer lakes compared with the Prudhoe Bay area. Most are less than 7 feet deep and freeze to the bottom in winter. There are several springs along the foothills, including Sadlrerochit Spring which was nominated as a National Natural Landmark.
Major impacts from oil exploration and development because water is so limited. During late winter, only 9 million gallons of water are available in the 237 miles of rivers in the coastal plain – this is enough to build and maintain only 6.6 miles of ice roads. It takes 1.35 million gallons of water per mile of ice road and as much as 15 million gallons to drill one exploratory well.
COASTAL / MARINE ENVIRONMENT
Lagoons, barrier islands, deltas, shorelines, and coastal waters provide shelter, feeding, and staging areas for migratory fish and wildlife populations, including endangered bowhead whales and millions of migratory birds.
Major adverse effects predicted in the event of a major offshore or coastal spill.
“The refuge, including the coastal plain, is a world-class natural area with incomparable and irreplaceable ecological, scientific, historic, and educational values for the American people. It is the outstanding example of American wilderness.
Major impacts to wilderness. “The wilderness value of the coastal plain would be eliminated. The
Displacement and reduction of wildlife populations and natural processes would cause a major reduction in the value of the area as a pristine, natural scientific laboratory.” 
*********** END CHART **********
For 20,000 years, the Gwich’in people of Northeast Alaska and Northwest Canada have depended upon the Porcupine (River) Caribou Herd to sustain their culture. The herd is central to their way of life, providing food, clothing, and a critical link to their traditional ways. To the Gwich’in, the coastal plain is a sacred birthplace that should never be disturbed in any way.
“Oil development in the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd – the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – threatens our Gwich’in culture and the ecosystem we depend on. This is a simple issue. We have the right to continue our way of life.” — Faith Gemmill, Gwich’in Steering Committee
The Exxon Valdez was a national wake-up call to failures of our oil spill contingency planning requirements that led to passage of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. But most North Slope crude oil transported from Valdez is still not carried in double-hulled tankers and other inadequacies remain. Still, this is treating the symptom, not its cause.
What is really needed are sensible national energy actions that decreases our reliance on crude oil through energy efficiency and alternative sources. We can show our commitment to this path by permanently protecting the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, not drilling it for short-term gain. This area is the only 5% of Alaska’s North Slope protected from oil exploration or development by law. We chose not to dam the Grand Canyon for its electricity, or exploit Yellowstone for power. It is time to make such a choice in America’s Arctic.
Written by Pamela A. Miller, Arctic Connections
P.O. Box 101811, Anchorage AK 99510 (907) 272-1909
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