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These Scientists Say the US Should Ban Offshore Arctic Drilling Forever

The Obama Administration recently restricted all offshore Arctic drilling till at least 2022, but some scientists think it should never happen.

by Meredith Rutland Bauer
Nov 28 2016, 10:22pm

Image: Shell/Flickr

While the oil industry has long eyed the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean as sites for offshore drilling, the Obama Administration shut down that idea for years to come.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released its choices for offshore oil drilling lease sales from 2017-2022 earlier this month, and included only leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska's shoreline (10 in the Gulf of Mexico and one in Alaska's Cook Inlet, to be exact.) As lease lease sales regarding offshore drilling are regularly announced on a five-year schedule through this department, this effectively means that there can be no new drilling in US portions in Arctic or Atlantic waters until 2022.

Days earlier, a group of scientists urged President Barack Obama to permanently withdraw US offshore drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean, in a letter just recently circulated to journalists

Thirty-four scientists in fields ranging from oceanography to wildlife ecology signed the letter earlier this month asking the president to permanently ban offshore drilling to protect Alaska's ecological resources from an oil spill and from damage caused during drilling. The scientists were from universities across the US and in multiple specialities related to the environment.

"The world is ambivalent about the Arctic," they wrote. "We marvel at its cold, majestic beauty, but many of us also yearn to exploit its resources. Pressures are mounting to fish, mine, and tour the Arctic, but fossil fuels are the resources most coveted. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Arctic Ocean."

Their letter underscores the need to move away from fossil fuel in order to combat the effects of climate change, as well as impacts from major disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. They also highlighted the impact climate change has on the Arctic, such as the melting of permafrost, glacial melting that causes sea level rise and ocean acidification that affects marine life.

President Barack Obama had previously considered opening offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, but a barrage of concerns from East Coast residents over the potential impacts to the environment, beach tourism and residents' health caused him to change course, Bloomberg reported.

The offshore drilling agreements announced recently also eliminate the chance that offshore drilling could take place in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska's northern shore or in the Pacific Ocean.

"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," US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a release. "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."

Per Jewell's remark about the "industry's declining interest in the area": Global oil giant Royal Dutch Shell abandoned its plans to pursue oil drilling in Alaska's Chukchi Sea nearly a year ago, citing high costs and low returns.

Jewell can approve the plan after 60 days have elapsed, and the plan would go into effect on July 1, according to a release.

Both events came shortly after President-Elect Donald Trump announced he will aim to eliminate oil and gas production regulations during his first 100 days in office.

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