JANUARY 2000

 

JANUARY 2000 FULL ISSUE

THE END OF THE OIL AGE

By PAUL KOBERSTEIN

It’s the dead of winter off Alaska in the ice-covered Arctic Ocean. The next appearance of the sun is still months away, and outside it is impossibly cold. There's trouble at the oil platform known as Northstar, located on an artificial gravel island 6 miles from shore. A subsea pipeline between the island and land has sprung a leak. The oil, heated and pumped under high pressure, seeps out into the ice. Come spring, the leak will be repaired. As for endangered bow­ head whale, polar bears, the spectacled eider and other wildlife, they could be severely oiled.

Northstar hasn't been built yet - construction has barely started - and this is just a hypothetical scenario. But even the Army Corps of Engineers says a major spill of at least 1,000 barrels has a 25 percent chance of happening, and various citizen groups give it a greater chance yet. If this or a more serious accident did occur, there would be questions about BP-Amoco's record in the oil-rich Alaskan Arctic: small leaks, accidents, explosions and criminal prosecutions for violations of the Oil Pollution Act.  In no time you'd see accusations, recriminations and lawsuits, not to mention media comparisons to the Exxon Valdez.

Northstar, however, is an issue in need of a larger context. In London recently, several BP-Amoco investors and several public interest groups, calling themselves "Sane BP," asked for an April 13 vote among shareholders to  force an end of plans to drill at Northstar, elsewhere in the Arctic Ocean and on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Sane BP, which includes the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Greenpeace, questions the "sanity" of investing in fossil fuels when clear evidence shows they cause global warming.

PAGE 7

Paul Koberstein