The Only Safe Arctic Drilling Is No Drilling

The Administration has issued draft drilling standards to govern oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean, our last pristine ocean. Billed as safety measures that justify turning these waters over to Big Oil, the proposed standards remain deeply flawed and represent a profoundly misguided step toward irreparably harming these wildlife rich seas and undermining our global commitment to combating dangerous climate change - all while exposing taxpayers to billions in potential costs.

Put out shortly after the Administration's draft 5-year overall plan for leasing the seabed for off-shore drilling (known as the outer continental shelf, or OCS lease plan), even a cursory review of the proposed regulations reveals three fundamental failings of the proposed standards for the Arctic and underscores what should be clear from the outset: the Arctic ocean is no place to drill for oil and should be taken off the table completely.

First, it is well and good to issue Arctic-specific regulations, but without field-proven Arctic-specific technologies for cleaning up a blowout, they amount to nothing more than a theory, an immeasurably risky throw of the dice. And there simply are no proven technologies for dealing with a blowout in the Arctic. As a result, any oil and gas exploration there sets the stage for an unthinkable catastrophe. Further, no regulations can assure that pack ice won't set in before a gusher can be stopped, leaving it to spew oil for up to nine months under the ice cap, thus ruining the world's last pristine ocean environment for decades, if not centuries, to come.

Second, taxpayers literally cannot afford Arctic Ocean drilling, regardless of the regulations. Oversight of spill response would fall to a U.S. Coast Guard that says it's billions of taxpayer dollars away from having the icebreakers and other equipment needed to be Arctic-ready.

Third, any development of Arctic Ocean oil and gas flies in the face of the scientific advice of the world's leading climate change experts about avoiding the worst impacts of global warming. The UN's Nobel-prize winning intergovernmental panel on climate change recently concluded that most proven fossil fuel reserves have to stay safely underground to hold warming under 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That means no large unproven reserves, like those in the Arctic Ocean, can be part of a responsible energy future. If the U.S. is going to show the leadership that the world needs and the greatest environmental threat of our time demands, it must start acknowledging that nothing will make Arctic Ocean drilling safe for the climate.

Simply put, no regulations are a match for the harsh conditions of the Arctic. And no safety standard can justify locking us into more climate-disrupting pollution, especially when there is a clear, safer, and cleaner path forward.

It is time to stop bending over backward to turn our last pristine oceans over to Big Oil. Doing so isn't right, it's not smart, it's not safe, and it has to stop.

And most importantly, it's not necessary. Instead, we can pursue a coastal development plan that embraces responsibly sited clean energy, like off-shore wind, which doesn't put our coastal communities, economies, environment, and climate at risk.

At the same time, we need to invest in the fuel efficiency, clean fuels, and clean energy advancements that have a proven track record of success, and we need to start making smarter choices of where and how much new oil we go to the ends of the earth to develop. Charting that course will give our children a fighting chance of inheriting a future where their economic and climate fate are not dictated by the fossil fuel industry.

And that's what a smart, safe, clean energy plan looks like.

About the Authors

Franz Matzner

Director, Beyond Oil Initiative

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