Arctic Battle: Oil Drilling Still Faces Environmental Concerns

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Shell declined "Nightline's" request for an interview, but said in a statement: "The debate on whether to evaluate Arctic energy resources is over. We are now focused on safe execution."

But Greenpeace refuses to back down, and the threat of a spill in the Arctic's pristine setting fuels their mission to stop oil drilling.

"In this remote, unforgiving environment, we all know it would be impossible to clean up an oil spill," said Greenpeace activist Jackie Dragon. "We can't risk it."

Reiss admitted than an oil spill in this part of the world, or in any part, could be catastrophic.

"The question is legislating perfection," he said. "Do you stop any kind of development because a spill could occur or do you have systems and back-up systems and other back-up systems to deal with a spill, which Shell does, and then allow it to proceed."

Local Eskimo communities whose culture and livelihood depend on a thriving Arctic are torn because for them, this debate is about survival. Steve Omittuk, the mayor of Point Hope, Alaska, located near the most northern part of the state, said the town has concerns for the animals and the ecosystem.

"If [the animals] are gone, our way of life is gone, the people who have been here for thousands of years is gone," Omittuk said. "The Arctic is so delicate, the system so sensitive."

But at the same time, Omittuk acknowledged that the town also needs jobs and drilling would provide them.

"It's hard for the people," he said. "They need money, they need income, they need our economy to come up, but we need our way of life also. It's a tough battle to choose."

Shell has already begun preliminary drilling and next year looks set to be full steam ahead.

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