Just yesterday the National Marine Fisheries Service released a new environmental appraisal of oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, and the conclusion they reached falls pretty squarely into the obvious category. All of that airgun shooting and drilling could have major impacts on endangered bowhead whales.
By “major,” they mean intense effects, long-term and possibly permanent in nature, affecting the entire species and region. They’re talking about constant disruptions in vital behavior from drilling and high-energy airgun shots, and the risk of a dangerous and uncontainable spill. The Fisheries Service decided to reassess these impacts after industry asked for double the drilling, going from two exploratory programs to four in the Beaufort and the Chukchi Seas.
Needless to say, proponents of drilling in the Arctic will not be pleased. Senator Lisa Murkowski, for example, has begun questioning the need for any programmatic impact assessment – seeming to forget her call in the wake of Shell’s drilling debacle for a review of “all aspects of the operation.”
Much of the government’s analysis actually underestimates harm from noise and drilling, and we’ll have more to say to that in the coming weeks. But for these endangered whales at least, the picture is only too clear.