Albion Monitor /News

Greenpeace, Oil Company in Arctic Standoff

by Danielle Knight

"Drilling for new oil in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming is irresponsible"
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The global warming debate has heated up in the Arctic where efforts by Greenpeace to block oil exploration has led to legal action against the environmental watchdogs by the petroleum giant ARCO and the State of Alaska.

"What is at stake in this new, aggressive billion dollar Alaskan oil rush is pollution from fossil fuels heating up and destroying the environment," says Kalee Kreider of Greenpeace. "Drilling for new oil in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming is irresponsible."

Besides posing a threat to life in the refuge, Greenpeace says the Arctic is a global hotspot for climate change which is heating about one degree faster than the global average. "Because the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal causes climate change, in the Arctic you have the causes and the effects of climate change represented dramatically in the same region," says Kreider.

Most oil companies, including ARCO, dispute global warming
After failed attempts to legally block ARCO from drilling in Alaska, Greenpeace used one of its ships to prevent the company from moving out to a future oil site in the Beaufort Sea off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"Shutting down U.S. oil exploration in the Arctic is not an solution to global warming, it just means we'll import more oil," declared ARCO spokesman Al Greenstein. "Like it or not the United States is dependent on oil and new reserves must be found in this country if we are not to be totally dependent on imports."

On Aug. 15, ARCO asked a federal court to restrain Greenpeace from interfering with their oil exploration in the potentially rich oil reserves of the Arctic.

All but a handful of scientists believe that the burning of fossil fuels-such as oil, gasoline, and coal-produces greenhouse gases which trap heat in the atmosphere and increase the Earth's surface temperature. Over time, they can cause changes in the Earth's climate, including increased frequency and intensity of storms, floods, heat waves, and droughts.

Most oil companies, including ARCO, disagree with the 2,000 scientists who signed a ban on the Greenhouse effect at the United Nations Environmental Conference.

"With the exception of British Petroleum, all of the oil companies maintain that there is not sufficient scientific evidence linking global warming to the burning of fossil fuels," says Gary Cook of Greenpeace.

ARCO also says the coastline for oil development along the Alaska coastline is minuscule. "Sixty miles of development along the coastline on the north slope of Alaska will not contribute to global warming," says ARCO official Ron Chappell. "The footprint ARCO has made in the Arctic is small."

Chappell believes Greenpeace is more concerned with grabbing headlines than protecting the environment. "If Greenpeace believed their own rhetoric, they would be in Prudhoe Bay in a sailing vessel today, not in an oil-powered ice breaker," he says.

Plans to lease the largest expanse of undeveloped public land in North America to oil companies
While the U.S. administration has been steadfast in its opposition to oil drilling in the refuge, Greenpeace says the government has been friendly to multinational oil corporations in other ways.

For the first time in more than a decade, the U.S. Interior Department recently launched a plan to lease the National Petroleum Reserve, the largest expanse of undeveloped public land in North America. Five companies -- ARCO, British Petroleum, Chevron USA, Petrofina Delaware, and Anadarko -- paid nearly $14.5 million for leases covering almost 100,000 acres.

Congress reasoned that opening this area to drilling would diminish U.S. dependence on oil exports. President Bill Clinton meanwhile, signed a bill into law ending the 23-year-old ban on export of Alaskan crude oil, a move heavily encouraged by the oil companies that is expected to increase profit margins.

With the approach of the U.N. Climate Change Convention in Kyoto, Clinton has stated that he finds the evidence for human-induced climate change "compelling" and that he plans to negotiate an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenpeace, however, says the administrations's policies allowing lease sales in federal waters off Alaska have been inconsistent with the President's stated concerns about global climate change.

"If Clinton was really concerned about global climate change it would subsidize renewable clean energy sources like solar or wind instead of handing out favors to oil companies," said Steve Sawyer in a phone call from the Greenpeace vessel in the Arctic.

What will happen to the ship outside the courtroom, rests largely with the U.S. Coast Guard who keeps the Greenpeace demonstrators 500 yards away from ARCO's oil platform. Both sides have only until the end of August to move before native whaling in the region begins when no ships can travel across the Beaufort Sea.

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Albion Monitor August 24, 1997 (

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