Arctic sea ice does more than provide habitat for polar bears and reflect sunlight. It also acts as a barrier between the rough ocean and delicate coastlines, like those of Alaska. With softening permafrost and disappearing sea ice, Alaska's coast is eroding faster than ever and may result in old oil wells actually slipping into the ocean.
In particular, the coast of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (a 23 million-acre area managed by the Bureau of Land Management and a plum drilling site, according to Bush) is eroding faster than ever, a new US Geological Survey study found. The BLM has identified more than 30 oil wells in danger of being reclaimed by the ocean, each of which will cost $20 million to clean to ensure that, if they do get sucked into the ocean, they won't spill even more oil into the state's ecosystem.