In Ironic Twist, Thawing Tundra Causes Trouble for Alaska’s Oil Industry

Global warming — brought about in part by the burning of fossil fuels — has raised temperatures in Alaska and reduced the length of the “frozen season” during which oil-prospecting convoys are allowed to traverse the landscape. The past three decades have seen the season shrink from 200 days to 100. Currently, to protect the fragile plant life beneath the ice, standards require six inches of snow and 12 inches of frozen ground to support heavy oil-prospecting machinery. Funded by the Department of Energy and oil companies, work is underway to create a more “flexible” standard that would allow a longer exploration season. Environmentalists question the wisdom of increasing oil exploration in a region so buffeted by environmental changes — and the wisdom of using the word “flexibility” every time environmental standards are further denuded.