Oil-industry infrastructure covers thousands of acres of Alaska's North Slope
with wells, gravel roads, air strips, gravel pads, equipment-storage sites, and more.
The Prudhoe Bay oil fields and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline system cause about 500 oil and toxic chemical spills annually on the North Slope,
according to Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation data from 1996 to 2004.
The field’s largest oil spill occurred in 2006,
when a corroded BP pipeline ruptured and leaked roughly 267,000 gallons of oil.
The effects of a major oil spill in the North Slope’s coastal areas or nearby marine waters could be devastating
to waterfowl, ringed seals, bowhead whales, and polar bears due to the difficulty of cleaning up crude.
Recovery from spills in the Arctic is slower because of cold temperatures, the slower growth rates for plants, and the longer life spans of animals.
Even localized, relatively small spills can have serious consequences on habitat and wildlife.
Prudhoe Bay air pollution emissions have been detected nearly 200 miles away
in Barrow, Alaska.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation lists more than 100 sites of contamination
caused by the North Slope oil industry.