Offshore Drilling Plans Endanger Arctic Ocean, Gulf Coast


 In Tuesday’s State of the Union Address, President Obama declared that his administration would open 75 percent of American offshore oil and gas resources to drilling.  Today, the President announced a new lease sale in the Gulf that will make approximately 38 million acres of ocean available to drilling.  Coming only two years after the worst oil spill in U.S. history devastated the Gulf Coast—and without comprehensive reforms to government oversight and industry practices recommended by the National Oil Spill Commission and others—these moves could spell disaster for sensitive ocean areas and coastal communities.

The plan to open 75% of recoverable offshore resources is the U.S. Department of the Interior’s proposed 5-Year offshore oil and gas leasing program that is currently out for public review and comment. It provides for 15 offshore oil and gas lease sales over the next five years, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and 3 in the pristine Arctic. With the period for public comments closing on February 9, this is a crucial chance for the public to weigh in and have their voices heard. 

We know too well the risks of drilling deep into the ocean floor for oil. Only two years ago, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon platform sent 170 million gallons of crude oil spewing into Gulf waters. The images are impossible to forget: beaches and wetlands slicked with oil, freezing the tourism economy. Thousands of fishermen out of work. And dead dolphins, pelicans, and sea turtles.

Opening new areas to drilling before proper safeguards have been put in place is a reckless gamble with the recovering Gulf and with the Arctic’s pristine ecosystems.

Oil companies are still using the same kind of blowout preventer that failed on the Deepwater Horizon rig.  Congress has failed to pass a single law to better protect workers or the environment. We should not increase leasing in the Gulf, without the necessary precautions to ensure safety for our workers, our oceans, and our coastal communities—precautions that the President’s own National Oil Spill Commission recommended be put in place.  While some progress has been made, these changes aren’t  close to complete. Only a small portion of the Gulf oil spill was actually "cleaned up," and the spill's impacts are still being felt by fishermen and others who depend on the Gulf for their livelihoods. 

And in the Arctic’s extreme conditions, no proven plan exists to contain and clean up a major spill. The difficulties of cleaning up a spill in the Arctic – amid ice-filled waters, hurricane-strength storms, and blinding fog —are daunting.  The Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, where proposed Arctic drilling would take place, are home to nearly one fifth of the world’s polar bears, along with seals, endangered bowhead whales, walruses, migratory birds, and other treasured marine life. A spill in this region would devastate one of our nation’s last remaining pristine ecosystems.  

In his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke of America’s endless drive to innovate and create jobs. Opening more U.S. waters to offshore oil drilling is a dangerous step in the wrong direction. With only two percent of the world’s oil reserves held in the U.S., drilling cannot and will not solve our energy problems. We need investments in clean, safe energy sources that won’t run out, won’t put our lives or livelihoods at risk, and will create permanent, quality jobs here at home.

It’s about time someone stood up for our coastal communities, marine life, and a brighter, more prosperous energy future.

Take action before the February 9th comment deadline. Tell the Obama administration to protect our oceans from harmful offshore drilling.