The worst spill in the history of oil development on Alaska’s North Slope last week shut down one of five petroleum-processing centers in the region while clean-up crews hurried to mitigate environmental damage. State officials estimate that as many as 260,000 gallons of crude from a leaking transit pipeline in an oil field jointly owned by ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips covered about two acres of frozen tundra near Prudhoe Bay. They expect the clean-up to take a couple of weeks, at which point operators will be able to re-open their processing center and restore production to pre-spill levels.
Environmentalists are glad the accident occurred during the winter, when clean-up is much easier, but they also say it underscores the hazards of oil development in the Arctic, despite claims to the contrary by industry representatives. “No matter how hard the oil industry tries with new technology and good intentions, mistakes happen,” said Eleanor Huffines of the Wilderness Society, a green group active in the campaign to prevent oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge nearby.
In a related note, the ongoing White House campaign to open ANWR to oil drilling suffered another setback last week when Interior Secretary Gail Norton announced her resignation. Norton had been the Bush administration’s most outspoken advocate for ANWR drilling, but failed to garner enough support in Congress to push any such proposals through.