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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

February, 2007

 

"The Importance of Being Bristol Bay"
By Marie Siegentaler

On the ninth day of this year 2007, President Bush lifted an eighteen-year ban on oil drilling in Bristol Bay. The ban was set up in 1989 in response to the oil spill of the Exxon-Valdez and ensuing devastation on the Prince William Sound ecosystem.
Bristol Bay, a section of ocean wedged comfortably between the southern chin of Alaska and the Alaska Peninsula, is thought to be one of the ocean's most biologically productive ecosystems. The area is the largest and most productive fishery in the country, home to the biggest population of sockeye salmon on the globe. Bristol Bay's fisheries also yield king crab, halibut, cod, and Bering Sea pollock. Some of the critically endangered animals that make their home here include the Northern Pacific Right Whale, Steller sea lion, and others.

The argument in favor of drilling-as posed mainly by Senator Ted Stevens (R) and oil company representatives-suggests that drilling would enhance the economy of the area and provides us with "needed" oil. When asked about the plight of the local fisheries, Stevens said that the drilling could occur without interfering with the fisheries.

Bristol Bay is not merely the shallowest part of the Bering Sea, but a pocked area of shoals and sandbars. The area is also subject to tempestuous winds and floating sea ice. The tides of the Bay are the world's eighth highest (30 ft). Bristol Bay's own fishing fleets are limited to 32 feet from bow to stern because the seas are so difficult to navigate. Further, the nautical documentation of the area's geography is sparse.

In essence, drilling in Bristol Bay would reduce the area to an oil spill waiting to happen.

Beyond being home to a myriad of oceanic wildlife, the shores of Bristol Bay are populated by 490 households, plus annual visitors. The fishing industry alone in this area grosses $2 billion annually and makes up a third of commercial Alaskan salmon, not to mention employs 12,500 people. While oil drilling would generate an estimated $8 billion a year, it would devastate the fishing and tourism industries. There is no word as to how many people, locals or otherwise, this project will employ.

Despite the statements of Stevens, drilling in Bristol Bay will not behoove local economy. The event of drilling would benefit no one except for those of the oil industry.

"Imported farmed salmon, high energy costs, and the area's remoteness have limited economic development and contributed to high poverty in the region."

-Senator Ted Stevens (Alaska-R)

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