NOV 21, 2016 6:02 PM PST

Obama bans Arctic drilling through 2022

Last Friday the Obama administration put a block on drilling in the Arctic and along the West Coast through 2022. The previously proposed five-year program for oil and gas had included 13 potential lease sales — 10 in the Gulf of Mexico and one each in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, Beaufort Sea and Chukchi Sea. In March, the White House abandoned plans to include the Atlantic Coast in the upcoming sale.
 
Photo: KEN GRAHAM VIA GETTY IMAGES
“The plan focuses lease sales in the best places ? those with the highest resource potential, lowest conflict, and established infrastructure ? and removes regions that are simply not right to lease,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement. “Given the unique and challenging Arctic environment and industry’s declining interest in the area, foregoing lease sales in the Arctic is the right path forward.” The plan still requires Jewell’s final approval, and would take effect July 1, 2017.

The Interior Department’s final plan, which limits drilling during the five-year period to the Gulf of Mexico and Cook Inlet, is being met with mixed reactions from environmental groups calling on Obama to use his executive power to permanently protect the fragile Arctic.

“This is a significant milestone in protecting the fragile Arctic Ocean and limiting climate change,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “And the president has the authority to do even more.  He can ban dangerous oil and gas drilling in the Arctic — and the Atlantic — for all time.”

“This move locks the Gulf into another five years of corporate giveaways ? with decades more of climate pollution, offshore oil spills, devastation to fisheries, and health impacts to local communities,” Rainforest Action Network Executive Director Lindsey Allen told The Huffington Post. “A true transition from fossil fuels doesn’t allow for energy sacrifice zones, especially when we know the climate can’t handle further fossil fuel development.”

Carter Roberts, president and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, applauded the announcement, saying there’s no proven technology to safely drill in the Arctic, and no way to clean up oil if it were to spill in frozen waters. He added that he hopes more permanent protection would follow.  

Such hopes are ever more urgent with the threats facing the enviroment from President-elect Trump, who believes climate change is a hoax. Environmental groups are worried that Trump will try to do away with Arctic drilling ban, as he has promised to do with so many of Obama’s previous actions aimed at combatting climate change.

Following Western Journalism, billionaire Democrat activist Tom Steyer is one of the leading people pushing for a total ban. His group, called NextGen Climate, has been one of the main organizations reaching out to Washington to stop the drilling. “The Trump administration has the potential to do serious damage to our climate — but in the last few months of his presidency, President Obama can take concrete steps to secure his environmental legacy,” said Steyer. “We will continue to support bold action by President Obama to fight for our families, and we will keep pushing back against Trump’s dark vision and dangerous plans for our country.”
 

The proposed expansion of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Gulf would result in climate-related social costs between $58.6 and $179.2 billion, according to a Greenpeace report released in June ? enough to potentially outweigh the economic benefits of selling the energy. Nevertheless, The LA Times explains, conservative lawmakers, particularly those from Alaska, are criticizing the plan. They pointed to polls showing that a large majority of Alaska residents support offshore drilling. The state, which relies almost exclusively on revenues from oil production to pay its bills, is facing drastic budget cuts because of declines in production on its North Slope. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she was “infuriated” by the decision. She and other critics have accused the Obama administration of ceding Arctic energy development to Russia and other nations.

Sources: The Huffington Post, Western Journalism, The LA Times
 
About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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