A lesson from the disaster in the gulf
One month ago the Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, killing 11 workers and sinking the drilling rig they had been working on. Since then the well has been spewing oil into the sea, and that oil is now starting to kill animals and ruin nearby shorelines.
Because the hole is 1,500 metres below the surface of the sea, British Petroleum, the company responsible, has no idea how much oil is being spilled and has battled to fix the problem.
It's an environmental disaster of a scale we have not seen for many years. The area where it happened is near fishing and shrimping grounds. Many people are losing their jobs because they can no longer fish along the polluted coast. There's only one piece of good news in this story, and that is that the accident has turned attention onto how dangerous oil drilling can be for our environment. Just recently, US President Barack Obama proposed new laws that would allow companies to drill for oil in areas which have been off limits for environmental reasons. One of the areas he offered was in the Arctic. That decision is now being considered.
When I was in the Arctic I stopped in Barrow, Alaska, the most northerly point in the United States and the centre of Arctic oil exploration in North America. Barrow is also a centre of research into how drilling affects the land and wildlife. Scientists and the Inuit who have spent generations living on the land think it could cause serious harm to the environment.
The sounds of the drilling could disrupt bowhead whales on their annual migration, while the roads and pipelines on the land disrupt the lives of caribou and other animals. But more importantly, as the incident in the Gulf of Mexico has shown us, drilling accidents can cause huge oil spills.
If an oil spill like this happened in the Arctic, it would be much more difficult to repair.
This accident can serve as a timely reminder for us on the cost of using fossil fuel. We have not done everything we can to reduce the amount we need. Because our greedy lifestyles demand more oil, corporations and governments are preparing to drill in some of the world's most environmentally sensitive areas.
Take a look at the pictures of the oil disaster in the US. Then look at some pictures of the pristine Arctic, and think again about how you can live more efficiently. When we waste energy we are the heart of the problem.
Cameron is available to speak to students about environmental issues Contact info@openpassage expedition.com