In a commentary last week in the journal Nature, Susan Murray of the advocacy group Oceana and Jeffrey Short, lead chemist for Alaska and the federal government for the Exxon Valdez spill and formerly of Oceana and the National Marine Fisheries Service, highlighted that as bad as the Deepwater Horizon spill was, in some respects, it was a best-case scenario.
"It was one place in the world where preparedness was top-notch," Murray said. "They had the equipment nearby, onsite to deal with the spill and yet it was still woefully inadequate."
Meanwhile, in the Alaskan Arctic, the nearest Coast Guard station is 900 miles away and landing strips and ports in the area are nearly non-existent, Murray and Short noted.
"It's cold. It's dark. The conditions are generally nasty. The visibility is terrible. In those conditions, even if you had the best of the best preparedness, what are the chances if you had a spill you'd be able to do something about it?" Murray said.
Even in summer, when seas are relativity ice-free, weather can move ice around in unpredictable ways, making areas impossible to access. In the summer of 2010, during a seismic research expedition, it took five days evacuate someone with a medical emergency because of unexpected ice, Short said.