We arrived on Kodiak Island today, near the spot where Shell’s drilling rig, the Kulluk, ran aground several days ago. We were able to charter a small airplane to take us to survey the rig at its current resting place in Kiliuda Bay where it has been towed for assessment and repairs.
During our transit from Kodiak to the rig we were treated to views of the stunning, pristine environment of Kodiak Island, saw bald eagles and harbor seals, and had a chance to chat with our local pilot who described the history of the area going back more than 7500 years.
As we came over the last set of ridges leading to Kiliuda Bay the rig came into view. Seen from above, the entire fleet (the Kulluk and its tugs, tenders and coastguard escort) is dwarfed by the majesty of this breathtaking landscape. Unfortunately, it is this very majesty, remoteness and power that make the pursuit of offshore drilling in the Arctic so irresponsible.
The series of accidents that have accompanied Shell’s first season drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas have done nothing but reinforce the notion that conditions even in Southern Alaska have proved too rough to allow safe operation let alone effective clean up were a spill to occur.
This is my first time in Alaska. I’ve been amazed by the natural beauty but know that I have not even scratched the surface in terms of understanding this wild and remote part of the country.
That said, in the summer of 2010 I spent two months in the Gulf of Mexico documenting the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While there I saw the beautiful beaches of the Gulf Islands National Seashore covered in crude oil. I spoke to fishermen who had lost their livelihoods to the contaminated seawaters. I saw pelicans barely able to fly as the oil saturated their feathers.
Looking back at that summer, I can only say that the idea of drilling for oil here in far harsher conditions, further from adequate response capacity, and in a place where conditions preclude any serious clean up effort, seems more irresponsible than ever.