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5 Mining Projects That Could Devastate the Entire Planet

Burning coal and oil for more than 100 years has resulted in human-made climate change. We cannot allow another 100 years of the same.

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How Much Fossil Fuel Are We Talking About?

It’s worth taking a quick look at some of the numbers from five massive fossil-digging projects that the fossil-fuel lobby will be pushing hard during the 112th Congress.

Oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas

By current estimates, there are some 30 billion barrels of oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas of Arctic Alaska. Let’s put that number in perspective. In the U. S. each year we consume a little over 7.5 billion barrels of oil, so those 30 billion barrels only amounts to 4 years of U. S. consumption. Not that long, right? But that’s not how it works. We don’t eat dinner with just a big hunk of steak only -- we may eat a salad before, plus a bit of steamed veggies, maybe even a baked potato, add a glass or two of wine or margarita, then maybe some desert, and even a cup of decaf coffee. Add all that up, and a 15-minute act is extended to an hour and a half. It’s the same way with America’s energy consumption, with oil coming from elsewhere and also coal, gas, and tar sands contributing to the energy needs. Shell could potentially keep drilling in the Arctic Ocean for the next twenty or thirty years. In the process, they’ll create massive dead zones in a cold, slow-growing habitat that will take centuries to heal, unlike the warm Gulf of Mexico, where things grow relatively fast. We must fight to stop Shell from drilling in America’s Arctic Seas.

Oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

For the past ten years, much of my work has focused on the ecological and human rights issues in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the most biologically diverse conservation area in the Arctic. I have worked closely with human rights organization Gwich’in Steering Committee in Fairbanks, Alaska and with activist environmental organization Alaska Wilderness League in Washington, D.C.

BP’s oil-and-methane spill in the Gulf of Mexico prompted Alaska Native peoples of the Gwich’in Nation to gather in late July in Fort Yukon, Alaska at the confluence of the Yukon and Porcupine Rivers. They created a magnificent human aerial-art PROTECT with images of caribou antler and salmon, two species the Gwich’in communities critically depend on for subsistence food, and both these species are threatened by climate change and potential oil-and-gas development. I’d urge you to visit the Gwich’in Steering Committee website to learn about the human-rights implications of drilling in the Arctic Refuge and the important work they have been doing since 1988 for the protection of the Arctic Refuge coastal plain from oil-and-gas drilling.

So how much oil is there in the Arctic Refuge? Best estimates go from about 7 billion to 16 billion barrels, meaning 1 to 2.5 years of U. S. annual oil consumption. Again, with some help from other energy sources, oil companies could potentially keep drilling in the Arctic Refuge for ten years or more. In the process, they’ll turn one of the most important ecocultural regions in the entire Arctic into an industrial wasteland and then leave.

As it happens, the 50th anniversary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is on December 6. Photographer Jeff Jones and writer Laurie Hoyle has just published a magnificent photo-essay book Arctic Sanctuary: Images of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that you can check out. And conservation organizations have a proposal in front of President Obama to once-and-for-all designate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a National Monument, which the President ought to do before the start of the 112th Congress.