A Beaufort Sea oil well blowout could contaminate hundreds of kilometres of ocean and the northern coast. Oil could wash ashore in communities from Alaska to Nunavut. Migrating beluga and bowhead whales, as well as polar bears and birds, could be seriously affected. Impacts on birds like snow geese and eider ducks would have a double impact – affecting long-term breeding grounds, and threatening an important food source for the Inuvialuit.
The consequences and costs of a potential spill – human, ecological and financial – are untenable, and must be avoided.
To understand these costs, WWF-Canada has researched the implications of four types of oil spills in the Beaufort Sea and produced an interactive map to help advance discussions about balancing conservation and development in the Canadian Arctic. For example, in the situation of a shallow blowout featuring the most likely response scenario, oil could be released for 30 days and could impact shoreline from Tuktoyaktuk, NT to Point Lay, Alaska (over 1,000 km). For more information on how far oil would spread or how it would impact environments, species and people, check out: https://arcticspills.wwf.ca.
Since the 1970s the National Energy Board (NEB) has upheld requirements that should prevent the worst case scenario: a well blowout spewing oil for the duration of the winter while severe conditions make regaining control of a well impossible. These requirements mean that oil companies must prove that they can drill a second relief well in the same season. This year, after nearly three decades of the regulation, two oil companies sought permission from the national regulator to propose alternatives to the existing safety regulations.
WWF-Canada is working with Ecojustice to ensure the critical protection provided by the existing regulations is not eroded. If drilling for oil in the Arctic cannot be done with a reasonable margin of safety, it should not be done at all.
The decision by one major oil company to withdraw from the NEB proposal process in December removes one immediate threat in the Beaufort Sea. It’s a good start, but this year our work continues to maintain or improve the current protection offered by regulations.