On May 15th, while acknowledging that polar bears are threatened with possible extinction in the next forty years or so, Secretary Kempthorne brushed aside the thoughts that oil and gas drilling might pose any risk, stating, “Polar bears are already protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which has more stringent protections for polar bears than the Endangered Species Act does. The oil and gas industry has been operating in the Arctic for decades in compliance with these stricter protections.”
And like this year’s Olympic triathletes, he quickly turned his attention to the next task at hand: weakening the very protection he cited as to why oil and gas drilling should move forward unabated. Secretary Kempthorne is now providing legal protection to seven oil and gas companies, enabling them to potentially kill bears and walruses without liability.
Furthermore, according to an AP article that points out the rapid flip-flop, the very premise that oil and gas exploration would not harm polar bears is, at best, blissful ignorance:
Exploring in the Chukchi Sea’s 29.7 million acres will require as many as five drill ships, one or two icebreakers, a barge, a tug and two helicopter flights per day, according to the government. Oil companies will also be making hundred of miles of ice roads and trails along the coastline.
“We are poorly equipped to address those risks and challenges,” said Steven Amstrup, one of the foremost experts on polar bears and a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center. “To assess what the impacts are going to be, we should know more about the bears.”
Last year, the Marine Mammal Oversight Commission, an independent government oversight agency, told the Fish and Wildlife Service it lacked the information to conclude that exploration will not affect the bear population.
For those who prefer their news in video form, here’s the related Associated Press story: