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Industry gets immunity in polar bear deaths

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Politicians and lobbyists are filling the media these days with speeches about how benign oil drilling will be in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We are constantly told that wildlife won’t be harmed by drilling activities. New technology has such a low impact, we’re told, that polar bears, caribou and musk oxen will, in fact, thrive around the small cities created by drilling operations.

If that’s the case, then why did the oil industry seek immunity for walrus and polar bear deaths that occur as a result of their work at neighborhing Prudhoe Bay? Let’s take a look.

The industry in 2000 applied for and obtained an “incidental take” permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (see Federal Register, Nov. 28, 2003, page 66744). Incidental take, in federal parlance, means to kill. The permit allowed oil companies working along the edge of the Beaufort Sea to harrass and kill polar bear and walrus in the course of their extraction and exploration activities. This permit expired in March, 2003, then was renewed until March 28, 2005.

The filing clearly states the permit was not required. So, why get it at all?

Because the industry knows that oil drilling might kill walrus and polar bear, and they want immunity from fines and legal liability. It’s a real enough possibility that they want to protect themselves. That’s quite a different story than we’ve been hearing lately about ANWR.

The “incidental take” permit actually applies to all offshore waters from Barrow east to the Canadian border, which includes waters off of ANWR, but not ANWR itself. The permit was sought by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association on behalf of its members, a virtual who’s-who of the global oil business. The group originally asked for the permit to run until 2008, but regulators extended it only until last month, citing the need for more data. So it’s likely a renewal will be sought.

Walrus are not common in the area, but the polar bear population in the Southern Beaufort Sea was estimated at 2,273 in 2002. In 30 years of oil drilling on Alaska’s North Slope, only two polar bears have been killed as a direct result of oil development. In winter 1968-1969, an industry employee shot and killed a polar bear. In 1990 a female polar bear was killed at a drill site on the west side of Camden Bay (we don’t know how). But the list of harmful activities is much longer.

Noise, vibration and lights from oil extraction can disrupt feeding and denning habits. The biggest risk is to females with cubs, which den up for the winter. Oil development could cause them to leave their dens when cubs are vulnerable. Female polar bears are not especially prolific breeders (averaging two cubs every 3 to 4 years), so this sort of disruption could hurt the population.

Oil spills are another significant problem. Polar bears exposed to oil can suffer health problems, fur loss and death. Regulators estimated the likelihood of one or more spills greater than 1,000 barrels in size occurring in the marine environment at 1 to 5 percent during the period covered by the regulations. The probability of a spill causing death to one or more bears was 0.4-1.3 percent.

But these numbers are only a guess, because they are based on data gathered outside the Arctic. In other words, they do not take into account the extra risk of spills inherent in working around permafrost and sea ice. Officials called this “the greatest source of uncertaintly in our calculations.” They admitted the likelihood of polar bear deaths could be double their estimates.

The point is that this is what’s happening with the “new drilling technology.” The industry is worried about killing polar bears and walruses with the new technology. And remember that the industry wanted this permit to run until 2008.

Some people still believe that oil drilling in a wildlife refuge won’t harm wildlife. But the oil companies aren’t among them.

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  • thackney

    If the permit is for Prudhoe Bay (the oldest major facility on the North Slope) and not for Alpine (the newest large gathering center on the North Slope) it seems to prove just the opposite of your accusations.

    In the same 30 years that the oil companies have killed 2 polar bears, how many have been killed by the native populations on the North Slope. I do not know the number but it is at least an order of magnitude larger. If you really wanted to protect the wildlife, your time would be better spent protesting the subsistence hunting allowed by the State of Alaska.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    But of course he doesn’t care about the actual Wildlife, he’s just a luddite looking for a pretext to use to ban oil drilling as part of the overall agenda to force us into increased dependence on foreign oil, higher prices and a general economic decline so that his overlords can come along a few years down the road and offer to solve all our problems for us if we’re just willing to give up a few things like private property rights and free speech…

    Dave

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Yeah Dave cause you know him so well. Troll.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    in this case. Not always.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com andy marsh

    2 bears in thirty years! That’s just outrageous! And if we drill in ANWR that total could double? Holy Mackeral! It’s the end of the world! I’d dig a bomb shelter, but the water table is only like 12″ here…maybe I’ll dig a pond instead!

  • http://www.murasaki.blog-city.com Purple Tigress

    I think one should consider how one would feel if one had oil drilling in one’s own backyard or block.

    Would one get a lot of rest? Would this make a normal life which included sexual intercourse, pregnancy and raising a family easy?

    Just continuous noise and vibrations are supposed increase stress levels in humans. Why shouldn’t we expect the same in animals?

    Wildlife reserves as supposed to be for the preservation of nature and their lifestyles. We’ve already driven many animals and plants to extinction. I think the question is: why continue with policies that could potentially lead to the extinction of other species (plants and animals) when we have failed to use technology to further other fuel resources? The cost of oil isn’t just how much we pay for it at the gas pump, but how much the extraction has cost the environment.

  • thackney

    Purple Tigress:

    Do not let the fact get in the way of your biases.

    Over four decades of development on the North Slope have shown that caribou can co-exist with development. The Central Arctic Herd, which calves in the Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk oil fields, has increased from 3,000 animals to more than 23,400 animals in those 40 years.

    http://www.anwr.org/archives/caribou_in_the_region.php

    http://www.anwr.org/gallery/images/17-Caribou_no_impact.jpg

  • Eric Olsen

    obviously, ANWR News is coming from a particular perspective, and has taken up the “mission” of detaling facts and news related to ANWR. I wouldn’t guess that any one of these stories is going to be an overwhelming smoking gun against development, but it would be more germane to view them collectively rather than take each piece and say “and THAT’s enough to shut down this vital new energy resource”?

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Eric – what’s with all that common sense. you feeling OK :-)

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    >>I think one should consider how one would feel if one had oil drilling in one’s own backyard or block.< <

    Excuse me while I roll on the floor laughing. You see, I actually DO have oil drilling on my block, not to mention active windmills, a water tower with a super deep well, and various telecommunications towers. Now admittedly, it's a big block - the smallest lots here are 5 acres. But you know what keeps me awake at night - not the oil well at the bottom of the hill - it's the damned coyotes and feral pigs AKA wildlife.

    >>Would one get a lot of rest? < <

    I sleep like a log.

    >>Would this make a normal life which included sexual intercourse, pregnancy and raising a family easy?< <

    Got two kids, so I guess the answer is yes.

    >>Just continuous noise and vibrations are supposed increase stress levels in humans. Why shouldn’t we expect the same in animals?< <

    So you've never actually seen an oil well, right?
    The noise and vibration is mostly in the drilling process. Once the well is established there's little vibration, mostly a sort of comforting muffled throb - kind of like a heart beat.

    >>Wildlife reserves as supposed to be for the preservation of nature and their lifestyles. We’ve already driven many animals and plants to extinction. I think the question is: why continue with policies that could potentially lead to the extinction of other species (plants and animals) when we have failed to use technology to further other fuel resources? The cost of oil isn’t just how much we pay for it at the gas pump, but how much the extraction has cost the environment.<<

    Extraction of oil has cost the environment virtually nothing, at least not since the early days of the wildcatters. Keeping wells non-intrusive with a small footprint doesn’t even require advanced technology. Most of the wells around here are on about 1500 square feet of land, fenced in and self-maintaining. Someone just comes by and empties the storage tank once a week.

    The real point here is that oil drilling and nature get on just fine together. Why not focus environmental concern on real dangers instead?

    Dave

  • thackney

    >>Most of the wells around here are on about 1500 square feet of land

    The latest well heads being drilled on the North Slope are separated by 20ft and in a row of about twenty connected to a common header. (in the Colleville Delta near the Alpine Gathering Center, on the far West side) From there they are directional drilled to the points in the fields the reservoir engineers recommend.

  • Tristan

    I am constantly amazed at all the supposedly learned people who espouse that oil drilling is “SAFE” and doesn’t really “harm the environment” ………………

    Would you try to run your car after you sucked all the oil out of the engine ………..?? It will run better right ..?? It won’t break down and seize up, right …????

    WHAT do you think this oil is for buried deep within the earth …??? Just an “accident” —??? The EARTH itself has no “NEED” for this blanket of oil within it …??? (We need it “more for our big fat SUV’s right!)

    Just like we don’t need the ozone layer out there either ~~~????

    Mankind is such an arrogant stupid short-sighted race, We deserve the same fate as the dinosaurs and will get it in the not too distant future.

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    I’d think Mother Earth, like any woman, would appreciate the free liposuction, removing all that nasty subsurface greasiness, leaving her all young and carefree again…

    [ad absurdam per asparagus]

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    LOL, DrPat. Remember, Herodotus tells us that they used to have problems in Egypt with the surface pools of oil bursting into flame and endangering people. Now that’s all fixed.

    >>The latest well heads being drilled on the North Slope are separated by 20ft and in a row of about twenty connected to a common header. (in the Colleville Delta near the Alpine Gathering Center, on the far West side) From there they are directional drilled to the points in the fields the reservoir engineers recommend.<<

    Sounds like an efficient and safe way to do it.

    Dave

  • http://anwrnews.blogspot.com ANWR News

    ,,obviously, ANWR News is coming from a particular perspective, and has taken up the “mission” of detaling facts and news related to ANWR. I wouldn’t guess that any one of these stories is going to be an overwhelming smoking gun against development, but it would be more germane to view them collectively rather than take each piece and say “and THAT’s enough to shut down this vital new energy resource”?>>

    Thank you, Eric, that is indeed the point. And I find it interesting that most of the response here boils down to moral relativism: 2 polar bears have been killed by oil drilling, and more could die, but it hardly matters because Eskimos kill all these other polar bears. Hardly the point. Why not just deal with the facts as presented?

  • gonzo marx

    ANWR News sez..
    *Why not just deal with the facts as presented?*

    good luck

    Excelsior!

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Is it really only two polar bears? How does the reporting of that go? I don’t know and someone might have a better resource – other than ANWR.ORG, which, though a relatively fair site is still pro-drilling.

    Obviously the polar bears aren’t going to hang around all that activity so they’ve been disrupted and “put on the reservation” so to speak.

    Funny thing, the oil well in my backyard is solar-powered. Crazy stuff, eh?

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    >>Why not just deal with the facts as presented?<<

    One of the facts presented was that only 2 polar bears have died as a result of Alaskan drilling activities. That’s fewer than people in the populous areas of Alaska have shot in their kitchens. Can we include that fact in our dealings? Or perhaps the fact that the active wells in the area near ANWR have not actually displaced polar bear dens? Is that a fact you’d like to deal with?

    Dave

  • thackney

    >>Why not just deal with the facts as presented?

    Not a problem. Two polar bears in 40 years of development is not a significant number by any evaluation.

    The increase in caribou population in the area of 3,000 animals to more than 23,400 is very significant. It is very clear to anyone who is honest that oil production on the North Slope has not hurt the wildlife populations.

  • thackney

    Just to keep perspective:

    The average harvest of polar bears on the Northern Slope region is about 33 per year. The total average number of polar bears harvested (from 1980 to 2001) of both the Southern Beaufort Sea and the Chukchi/Bering Seas is 105 per year.

    http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/stock/finalpbbeaufortsea.pdf

  • zookeeper

    ond dead polar is too many!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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