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TomDispatch: BPing the Arctic?, Will the Obama Administration Allow Shell Oil to Do to Arctic Waters What BP Did to the Gulf?


From TomDispatch today: a unique first-person account by an Arctic photographer of the next deep-water oil drilling danger, Shell Oil's venture into America's Arctic seas -- Subhankar Banerjee, "BPing the Arctic?, Will the Obama Administration Allow Shell Oil to Do to Arctic Waters What BP Did to the Gulf?" (Note as well that there is a TomCast audio interview with Banerjee on the impact of drilling in Arctic waters which can be found here, and that three of Banerjee's remarkable Alaskan Arctic photos accompany the piece and can be reproduced with credit.)

Writes photographer Subhankar Banerjee, "I've come to know Arctic Alaska about as intimately as a photographer can. I’ve been there many times... crisscrossing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- 4,000 miles in all seasons by foot, raft, kayak, and snowmobile." He's spent almost a month in a near-continual blizzard camped out before a polar bear den. He's counted almost 1,000 Beluga whales in a mile stretch of the Chukchi Sea coast and has been on native whale hunting expeditions. He's been unable to go to sleep at night because of the cacophony of calls from 180 nesting species of birds.

This is what it has meant for Banerjee to photograph the Alaskan Arctic for the last decade -- and he offers it up in all its vivid detail in his first TomDispatch post. (His highly regarded photographs of the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge were infamously censored in the Bush years by the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History - because pressure to drill for oil in the refuge was so high.)

Now, as Shell Oil prepares to send a drilling ship into Alaska's Arctic seas this July, he describes in vivid prose the world he's explored. It's one of the richest ecologies on the planet that, sooner or later, will -- as events in the Gulf of Mexico make clear -- be despoiled if the Obama administration doesn't at the last moment deny access to Arctic waters to that oil company.

This is the rarest of accounts of a world in danger, as vivid as any set of photos. It's news; it's a passionate hymn to an ecology that should be preserved; and it's a plea to the president and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar not to grant the last permits that will lead to the tragic BPing of America's Alaskan waters.

Banerjee concludes: "If the remaining permits are approved for Shell in the coming weeks, [the drilling ship] the Frontier Discoverer will be in the Chukchi Sea less than six weeks later. President Obama and Secretary Salazar should stop this folly now. It’s important for them to listen to those who really know what’s at stake, the environmental groups and human rights organizations of the indigenous Inupiat communities. It’s time to put a stop to Shell’s drilling plan in America’s Arctic Ocean for this summer -- and all the summers to come."

This is a unique piece for TomDispatch to publish. I hope you'll give it special attention by reading it now.

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