Fossil-fuel operations in the Arctic will inevitably compromise habitat — regardless of spills (Nature 472, 162–163; 2011).
The seismic airgun surveys used for hydrocarbon exploration and for monitoring deposit conditions can disrupt foraging behaviour of bowhead whales at long distances. They also seriously diminish fisheries catches of haddock and other Arctic species, and have halted the migration of fin whales (a non-Arctic species) at a range of more than 175 kilometres.
Bowhead and beluga whales avoid oil-derrick operations. Many other noises associated with fossil-fuel exploration and production — such as construction, shipping, transport helicopters and underwater acoustic telemetry — have a deleterious impact on the marine acoustic environment.
We do not yet know about the impacts of noise from thruster-stabilized exploration platforms and from sea-floor processing equipment such as wellhead chokes, separators and re-injectors, which operate out of sight and under extreme pressures.
In collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, we are developing a peer-reviewed website that can be understood by a lay audience in order to explore some of these issues (see http://go.nature.com/5vuebe).