Back on July 27, 2014, Cruise Bruise reported on the 253-metre-long cruise ship Crystal Serenity cruise ship which had a sold out, inaugural 32-day cruise through the Canadian Northwest Passage on August 16, 2016. Once again, Alaska and the cruise industry are in the news.
An estimated $700 million tax on cruise ships has been dodged in Alaska. But, the $700 million in revenue had to be made up somewhere and Alaskans may recover the money at the expense of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
On one hand, the tax would have been hurting communities that rely on cruise ship tourism. But, if the pristine environment which brings cruise ship passengers by the millions to Alaska, becomes a toxic disaster of epic proportions, will millions take a cruise vacation to see oil soaked Alaskan ports of Anchorage and Seward?
The bill also paved the way for allowing oil and gas drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). An estimated $1.1 billion in federal revenue is expected from drilling in Alaska’s northeast coast over the next decade.
History taught lessons regarding oil and the those who live not only in the sea, but on land. The devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound killed 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and their herring eggs.
More recently, in the Gulf Of Mexico, there was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill which began on April 20, 2010. In 2013, researchers found that oil on the bottom of the seafloor did not seem to be degrading, and observed a phenomenon called a “dirty blizzard”: oil in the water column began clumping around suspended sediments, and falling to the ocean floor in an “underwater rain of oily particles.” The result could have long-term effects because oil could remain in the food chain for generations.
If drilling is done in the Arctic Circle, the path to market will likely be west, around the coast of Alaska to west coast ports and beyond. The already well-established Valdez Marine Terminal, which is located at the end of the Trans Alaskan Pipeline System, in the Gulf of Alaska is a geographically positioned choice.
The immediate concern is The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is 19,286,722 acres in the Alaska North Slope region. The refuge supports a greater variety of plant and animal life than any other protected area in the Arctic Circle.
The controversy surrounds drilling for oil in a 1,500,000 acres subsection on the coastal plain, known as the “1002 area”. Much of the debate over whether to drill in the 1002 area of ANWR rests on the amount of economically recoverable oil, as it relates to world oil markets, weighed against the potential harm oil exploration might have upon the natural wildlife, in particular the calving ground of the Porcupine caribou.
The Porcupine caribou population is overseen by the Porcupine Caribou Management Board both in the U.S and our neighbor Canada.
The Porcupine Caribou herd is one of the largest migratory barren ground caribou herds in North America. The herd has gone up and down in size over time, but it has always been an important part of the ecology of the Western Arctic. In order to try to understand the herd better, researchers monitor for changes in the herd’s size and composition.
Since the first census was conducted in the early 1970s, the herd has shifted between 100,000 and 200,000 animals. No one is sure what causes the herd to get smaller or larger, but ongoing monitoring programs indicate that changes in adult survival might be one of the things that affects the population the most.