In the next few weeks the Obama administration will make a series of crucial decisions that could decide whether America's fragile and unique Arctic ecosystem will survive or be sacrificed to reckless, destructive, industrial-scale oil and gas drilling. These polar bear seas, the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in northern Alaska above the Arctic Circle, are home to 20 percent of the world's diminishing polar bear populations and the endangered bowhead whales, as well as the rich fishing grounds of Bristol Bay further south.
This irresponsible rush to drill is ignoring basic facts. Federal experts have predicted up to a 50 percent chance of a large oil spill in the Arctic Ocean. The U.S. Mineral Management Service states that there is no technology available to clean up an oil spill in this icy, volatile environment.
Warming in the Arctic is occurring at twice the rate of the rest of the planet and this entire ecosystem depends on sea ice to thrive. We must proceed with wisdom and caution in this treasured natural area that is already under extreme stress. President Obama and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar need to call a timeout on all new or pending oil and gas activity until a science-based, comprehensive approach to managing this region is developed that will ensure a legacy of a healthy, living Arctic.