Contributing Monkie Jennifer Buonantony
Published on July 29, 2008
Everyone loves a good yard sale. It’s practically an American tradition to pull your car over on a Sunday afternoon and scour through a stranger’s belongings on a personal scavenger hunt for the best priced item to add to your collection. But has this American tradition gone too far?
The federal government has decided to hold its own sale. Their yard is a chunk of ocean floor in Alaska just smaller than the size of Pennsylvania, and the items for sale are the futures of Arctic animals like polar bears, walruses and whales. That’s right…the federal government is auctioning off 46,000 square miles off Alaska’s coast to petroleum leases starting next month. Gas companies, step right up.
This sale is among the largest acreage offered in Alaska in U.S. history and encompasses the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the east and the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPRA) in the west. And although the NPRA may have served our government in the past like a giant oil tank we’ve tapped into in times of need, it should be viewed as the largest piece of unprotected wilderness in the nation, holding even more wildlife than the refuge itself. It’s home to hundreds of caribou, grizzlies, and wolves, and is the nation’s most important habitat for the Pacific walrus.
The Alaskan Chukchi Sea is also known for its endangered fin and humpback whale sightings as well as being home to one of only two U.S. polar bear populations — recently categorized as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The chances for the continued survival of these icons of the Arctic will be greatly diminished if the last remaining critical habitat is turned into a vast oil and gas field” says Margaret Williams, a director at the World Wildlife Fund.
My question is, just how much gas is under this great wilderness of Artic ice? And is it worth the potential sacrifice of this many treasured species?
The Minerals Management Agency, a branch of the Interior Department, is in charge of the sale and is responsible for collecting pre-leasing data and post-leasing plans for any impact oil and gas activity has on the environment. However, according to National Geographic, there have only been an estimated eight assessments of the land’s oil potential since 1986, with the results showing numbers all over the map. Not only do we not know how much oil is there, no one has figured out how to clean up a spill in broken ice — a spill that would leave the ecosystems of the Artic damaged for decades.
What this basically means is that our government is blindly entering into a land auction and long term commitment with gas companies without having the proper research or planning to resolve any conflicts that may occur – which reminds me of a similarly hasty decision made under the Bush Administration.
It may be American tradition that one person’s junk is another’s person’s treasure, but our government should not be able to auction off something as valuable as our environmental future as a quick fix to our nation’s current gas crisis.
This is one yard sale that I hope the American public does not pull over for.