To Fight Warming, Ban Arctic and Atlantic Offshore Drilling

Seven of the country’s top environmental leaders have just called on President Obama to put a permanent ban in place, forever ending the threat of Arctic and Atlantic offshore drilling. Ranging from the Sierra Club’s Mike Brune and NextGen’s Tom Steyer to NRDC’s own Rhea Suh, they join more than a million Americans who’ve recently weighed in against drilling in these fragile waters.

The Department of Interior has already decided that for the next five years it won’t expand oil and gas leasing into the Atlantic.  And it could do that for the Arctic Ocean too. 

But drilling in these regions will not make sense ever, not in five years and not in fifty

Because, where we drill, we spill, tremendous resources are at risk in both seas—including a fishery off the Mid-Atlantic/South Atlantic coast that supports a quarter of a million jobs,

and hard-pressed, iconic species in the Arctic that we could never protect from a blowout: whales, walruses, polar bears, and millions of seabirds.

Walrus resting on ice flow (Captain Budd Christman, NOAA)

And though we’ll go on using some oil while the U.S. transitions to clean fuels, it won’t come from these oceans. Starting from scratch, it would take the industry 20-30 years to deliver that oil to consumers—if it really exists in commercial quantities (Shell estimated, before it quit trying to drill in the Arctic Ocean almost 15 years after leasing was authorized, that production was another 15 years off). By then, if we’re on track to limit the massive threat of climate change, efficiency improvements and renewable energy will have made it irrelevant.

That’s why we’ll never need or use these fuels—and why they’ll never provide the economic bonanza that boosters claim they will—unless we’re prepared to let the planet burn.

Fortunately, the President can eliminate this no-win threat for good. He has special statutory power to permanently end oil and gas leasing in the Arctic and Atlantic.  And he has time left to get the job done before leaving office.

As this just-released video shows, he fully understands the imperative of winning on climate change, including that “we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release dangerous pollution into the sky.”

Makes sense: scientists tell us that already-discovered fossil fuels amount to four times what we can burn, to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. Drilling for more just threatens to flood the world with additional climate-wrecking fuels, discourage adoption of alternatives, and lock in carbon pollution far into the future. As the seven leaders wrote to Obama: “we need to ensure the industry does not dig this dirty energy hole any deeper by opening up as-yet undeveloped areas.”

Instead, we need the federal government to go all in on clean fuels, making sure drilling doesn't expand into new federal lands and waters, while transitioning regions where extraction is already happening—like the Gulf of Mexico—away from dependence on the fossil fuel industry just as rapidly as local communities can manage. And we have to persuade other countries to follow suit.

But if nobody leads, nobody follows. So it’s vital that President Obama seize this leadership moment before leaving office, and take another major step forward in combating the climate disruption that threatens all of us with truly dire consequences.

(To join millions asking the President to take this historic stop, click here)

This blog provides general information, not legal advice. If you need legal help, please consult a lawyer in your state.

About the Authors

Niel Lawrence

Alaska Director and Senior Attorney, Land & Wildlife program

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