Keep It Under the Sea

Wow. That just happened. President Obama rejected the "inevitable" Keystone XL pipeline. He stood up to some powerful interests--and he made the right call. The stuff TransCanada wanted to pump through Keystone was about the dirtiest oil out there. Federal permits shouldn't help that kind of pollution move to market.

Unpacking his decision, the President explained "we're going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky."

That's a game changer. Until now, Mr. Obama has focused solely on reducing carbon emissions by promoting clean fuels and energy efficiency--greenhouse gas standards for vehicles, for instance. Vital efforts, because without alternatives to fossil fuel consumption, we'll wreck the planet.

He's not, however, dealt with excess oil and coal production that cuts against those initiatives. We've already discovered four to seven times the fossil fuel deposits we can burn, to avoid really bad climate impacts. Flooding the market with more promotes pollution over greener options. And sinking investment into expensive carbon extraction infrastructure locks in production and emissions far into the future, long after we have to finish kicking the fossil fuel habit.

So it's critical to ramp down long-range fossil fuel commitments in tandem with ramping up sustainable fuels and efficiency. Critical to keep some fossil fuels in the ground. And critical to have the most prominent, successful climate leader in the world explain that. Explain it's time to synch our policies on fossil fuel supply with our policies on reducing fossil fuel demand.

A great place to start synching is our Arctic Ocean. It has to be the worst place on Earth to drill for oil. It's remote, unspoiled, fragile, and battered by climate change. Ice floes and storms mean you can forget about meaningful spill response. Imperiled species like walruses, polar bears, whales, and ice seals abound. Drilling there sends the world a terrible signal: we'll go anywhere for more dirty oil.

Today, we have an extraordinary chance to end that folly. Oil companies have retreated, driven by setbacks in the field, massive public opposition, precautionary rules--enforced by environmentalists when the feds wouldn't, and huge costs. Plus, the Obama administration has just pulled the plug on all scheduled oil auctions there. And said "no" to extending existing leases.

That sets the stage to move U.S. energy supply policy out of the region for good. The President has that power. He can, with the stroke of a pen, withdraw the entire U.S. Arctic Ocean from any future oil leasing.

What a message to the world: "Join us putting the Arctic Ocean off limits to drilling that we can't safely do, for oil we can't safely burn."

NRDC and its partners are campaigning for President Obama to take that visionary step, as he prepares for the global climate summit next month. You can join our effort here. Tell the President, the first place to start keeping U.S. oil in the ground is under the sea.

About the Authors

Niel Lawrence

Alaska Director and Senior Attorney, Land & Wildlife program

Join Us