ANCHORAGE, Alaska—(ENEWSPF)–October 6, 2016. This week’s announcement by Caelus Energy that it discovered, and intends to develop, a massive offshore oil field in Alaska’s Smith Bay could push polar bears closer to extinction and help lock in the worst climate change scenarios predicted by scientists, the Center for Biological Diversity warned today.
Located in shallow water about 50 miles southeast of Barrow, the site is in the heart of critical habitat the federal government designated to protect imperiled polar bears, which have been decimated by the loss of sea ice caused by the excessive burning of fossil fuels. Company officials called the discovery the largest in state history, estimating more than 2 billion recoverable barrels of oil. If estimates are accurate, the oilfield could produce more than 653 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent when burned — equivalent to the annual emissions of nearly 200 coal-fired power plants.
This greenhouse gas pollution impedes the United States’ ability to meet its international commitments to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Scientists have warned that all Arctic oil resources are unburnable to meet the 2 degree target, and potential emissions from fossil fuels already under development globally will take us beyond 2 degrees of warming.
“Caelus’ CEO called this discovery a ‘game-changer’ and he’s right: Developing this site could trigger the worst climate change scenarios and leave the planet reeling from this crisis,” said Miyoko Sakashita, the Center’s oceans program director. “We need to leave Arctic oil in the ground to protect future generations.”
Developing the new oilfield would require a 125-mile pipeline connecting the remote site to the company’s existing oil infrastructure in Prudhoe Bay, which the Center warns could trigger additional Arctic oil extraction projects. Caelus CEO Jim Musselman told reporters the company already uses hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, more than other oil companies in Alaska, and the new oilfield would need to be heavily fracked as well to extract its light crude oil.
“More drilling and fracking would harm polar bears, ringed seals and other imperiled wildlife in the region,” Sakashita said. “Between the impacts to our climate and Alaska’s wildlife, it’s clear to us this project should never move forward. We intend to fight it.”
Earlier this year the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the federal designation of 187,000 square miles of sea ice, barrier islands and coastal areas in Alaska as critical habitat for polar bears, which was based on a 2005 petition by the Center to protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.