The other day, I saw a story on CNN that the current administration has approved leasing plans for oil drilling in the Coastal Plain area of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Rather than just the Area 1002 (roughly 2000 acres) that was set aside for potential oil exploration when the refuge was established, it seems like the whole Coastal Plain area (1.5 million acres) will be up for grabs. This will be devastating for wildlife. For example, there is a caribou herd that relies on the Coastal Plain area for their calving and summer feeding grounds. This decision to open the whole area to drilling will result in reductions in the caribou population and the predators and indigenous peoples that rely on the caribou. The World Wildlife Fund has a quick summary of the reasons we shouldn’t allow drilling in ANWR and the Center for American Progress has a summary of why we shouldn’t drill from energy and economy standpoints. The Gwich’in people (the original inhabitants of the land) also advocate strongly against drilling. One last link for you, Scientific American has a story on the environmental impact statement prepared by the government. By their own emission, drilling will contribute to extinctions of wildlife in the refuge. The Arctic ecosystem is already severely impacted by global warming. Do we have to double down on human impacts with more drilling? This is the time to move away from fossil fuels, not try to find more sources of them.
Now for some rare good news, on July 6 a federal judge ordered a shutdown of construction and operations on the Dakota Access Pipeline for a full environmental and cultural impacts review. This has been a four-year legal battle between the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes and the US Army Corps of Engineers and Dakota Access, LLC. This press release from Earth Justice (the group representing the Sioux tribes) detailing the ruling and giving the history of the struggle. There are many issues with the Dakota Access Pipeline (and the similar Keystone Pipeline and Keystone XL) but I will just address the issues with what the pipelines are transporting and the fact that pipelines are prone to spills and other leakage.
These pipelines bring or are slated to bring tar sands oil from Canada down to refineries in the United States. Extraction and refinement of oil from tar sands results in 50% higher carbon dioxide emissions than conventional oil (see this brief explanation) and extensive habitat destruction (which is of course followed by massive biodiversity loss). If we rely on tar sands oil as our conventional sources of oil are rapidly depleted, we will accelerate and exacerbate global warming.
This picture shows what the natural boreal habitat should look like and what the landscape looks like after clearcutting and sand extraction. In his documentary “Before the Flood” Leonardo DiCaprio likens the tar sands landscape to Mordor in Lord of the Rings. Photo credit: © Greenpeace/John Woods
While oil companies tout pipelines as the safer alternative to train or truck transport, it turns out that the Keystone Pipeline has frequent spills/leaks. Twenty one spills of varying sizes (sometimes underreported) occurred between 2010 and 2019. Oil spills threaten drinking water supplies and are toxic for wildlife. Despite this record of spills, the current White House administration approved the Keystone XL extension in March of 2019.
But let’s stay focused on the good news! The Dakota pipeline has beens stopped (for now). We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history. These past four years have been devastating for the environment (and devastating for human rights in this country, and devastating for international relations, and...I could go on and on). I don’t think I’m being dramatic when I say that the future of our nation and the world depends on the election of Joe Biden in November. That’s my action suggestion for today. Vote for Joe Biden (and democratic candidates down the ticket) in November. Only if the democrats control the White House and Congress can we start to undo the damage that the orange occupant (I can’t bear to say or write his name; he doesn’t deserve acknowledgement) of the White House has done.
Vote for Biden and Harris on November 3rd! (or vote early if your state allows it)
Commentary on environmental news/issues plus thoughts and stories about my journey to lower my environmental footprint and raise my voice.
-Another vegan environmentalist