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Today’s Exxon Valdez oil spill anniversary serves as stark reminder to keep drilling out of America’s Arctic Ocean

WASHINGTON (03/24/2011) -

It’s been 22 years since the world watched one of the worst environmental disasters of our time unfold in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Now, even as tens of thousands of gallons of oil from that disaster still linger just below the surface of Prince William Sound’s beaches, the oil industry is pushing to drill in Alaska’s Arctic waters without the technology or know-how to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic’s extreme, icy conditions. As noted by the National Oil Spill Commission report released in January, there are ‘serious concerns about Arctic oil-spill response, containment, and search and rescue.’

In the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill, the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf last year, last month’s spill in Norway’s Arctic waters and the current spill in the Tristan da Cunha archipelago that has left an estimated 20,000 endangered penguins covered in oil, concerned citizens from across the country are calling Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today to demand that he reject bad drilling plans and ensure that America’s Arctic Ocean is not sacrificed to line the pockets of Big Oil.

Quotes from Conservation Organizations:

“Toxic oil continues to poison the rocky beaches of Prince William Sound 22 years after the Valdez spill. In Arctic waters, where cleanup technology doesn’t even exist yet, recovering from a similar disaster could take a century,” said Richard Charter, senior policy advisor for Marine Programs with Defenders of Wildlife. “Drilling in the Arctic puts a pristine marine environment at risk of long-term, and even permanent, damage. Unless we use the tragic lessons of past oil spill disasters to inform our policy decisions going forward, we will see the same tragedy played out on a different stage.”

“Shell Oil is pushing to drill in America’s Arctic Ocean -  an environment characterized by hurricane-force winds, blizzard conditions and icebergs the size of apartment buildings - with an oil spill response plan that literally relies on ‘mops and buckets’ to help with the clean-up,” said Cindy Shogan, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned from oil spills like the Exxon Valdez disaster 22 years ago, it’s that Big Oil is willing to stop at nothing – including sacrificing our most precious natural places – to continue our nation’s addiction to oil. The Obama administration must say no when it comes to risky development in America’s Arctic Ocean.”

“More than two decades later Alaska’s coast is still suffering from the Exxon Valdez oil,” said Dan Ritzman, Alaska Program Director for the Sierra Club. “Today's anniversary is a clear reminder that our addiction to oil is dirty and dangerous. Now is not the time to open the Arctic Ocean up to dangerous oil development; we need to move America beyond oil by investing in clean energy and a 21st century transportation system.”

“Twenty-two years after the Exxon Valdez spill, the herring fishery has not recovered, a unique pod of Prince William Sound killer whales is dying out because it can no longer reproduce, and locals are still finding oil on their beaches. These are daily reminders that oil spills have long-term consequences for people and for ecosystems. Knowing the consequences, and knowing that there is no technology to clean up oil spills in icy Arctic waters, it is irresponsible and short-sighted to risk the fragile Arctic ocean for a short-term supply of dirty fossil fuels,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska Director for Center for Biological Diversity.

“More than twenty years after the Exxon Valdez, Prince William Sound has not yet fully recovered from its catastrophic effects. Currently, we are only beginning to fathom the long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon blowout that gushed unchecked for 91 days on the Gulf Coast. Now, there is yet another major spill unfolding involving the MS Olivia at Nightingale Island, a World Heritage Site, in the South Atlantic Ocean. A globally important seabird breeding area, Nightingale Island supports the only breeding population of Northern Rockhopper Penguins in the world.  Already many oiled penguins have been spotted. Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon, and the MS Olivia provide stark evidence of the risks of oil development in sensitive ocean areas. The message is clear: we cannot move fast enough away from oil development in these vulnerable places. Only by investing in renewable energy can we protect valuable places such as the Arctic.” said Nils Warnock, Ph.D., Executive Director of Audubon Alaska.

“The words ‘oil spill’ and ‘clean-up just don’t go together. As the Exxon Valdez and every other spill have shown, oil remains in the marine ecosystem, wreaking havoc on wildlife and communities for decades if not longer. The Obama administration should shelve all plans for opening up America’s Arctic Ocean to drilling and get to work on developing clean, renewable sources of energy instead,” said Melanie Duchin, Arctic Campaigner for Greenpeace.


See how Defenders is working to protect American coasts from the harms of offshore drilling

Learn more about how offshore drilling threatens wildlife in the Arctic


Caitlin Leutwiler, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3226
Emilie Surrusco, Alaska Wilderness League, (202) 544-5205
Nils Warnock, Audubon Alaska, (907) 276-7034
Rebecca Noblin, Center for Biological Diversity, (907) 274-1110
James Turner, Greenpeace, (415) 812-1142
Ginny Cramer, Sierra Club, (804) 225-9113 x 102

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.