Hundreds of thousands of Americans, more than 60 members of Congress and 573 research scientists are among the groundswell of voices that has been building over recent months – speaking out to demand that the Obama administration make decisions based on science and not politics, and not allow drilling in America’s Arctic Ocean when there’s no viable method to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic’s extreme conditions and limited information about the Arctic’s fragile marine environment.
Close to 400,000 people urged President Obama to remove two Arctic lease sales proposed in the nation’s offshore drilling program for 2012-2017, during a public comment period that ends today. In addition, 60 members of Congress came together to ask Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to address “significant hurdles” in America’s Arctic “before considering any new leasing in the region,” in a letter that was spearheaded by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), Rep. David Price (D-NC) and Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA).
More than 500 distinguished U.S. and international scientists—including renowned oceanographers Sylvia Earle, Paul Dayton, and Alan Springer—signed an open letter asking the Obama administration to follow through on its stated commitment to science in the Arctic.
In addition to including two new Arctic lease sales in the draft version of the 2012-2017 Outer Continental Shelf Oil (OCS) and Gas Leasing Program, the Obama administration has made several recent decisions that would allow Royal Dutch Shell to move forward with drilling in the Arctic Ocean this summer.
Drilling could begin as soon as July despite the fact that there is no proven way to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic’s extreme conditions and a lack of even basic information about the Arctic’s one-of-a-kind marine environment. The Arctic coast has been home to the Inupiat people for thousands of years. In addition, Arctic waters provide critical habitat for myriad species of wildlife including polar bears, bowhead whales, walrus, ice seals and hundreds of species of birds.
“There is a basic lack of scientific understanding of the Arctic Ocean ecosystem. Moving ahead with drilling now is like starting development with both eyes closed. The ocean waters along Alaska's northern coast provide vital habitat for millions of migratory birds and other wildlife. We need to fill in a lot of blanks about how the ecosystem works before we can even assess what the risks of development are,” said Nils Warnock, Ph.D., Executive Director of Audubon Alaska.
“President Obama promised a new way of making decisions about drilling in this country. Proposing new Arctic drilling, with no viable method to clean up an oil spill and limited information about the Arctic’s fragile marine environment, fails to meet these promises,” said Leah Donahey, Western Arctic and Oceans Program Director, Alaska Wilderness League. “The American people want real change. President Obama, only you can stop destructive drilling in America’s Arctic Ocean.”
“While there is warranted concern for the high risk of oil spills in the Arctic, there will also be huge expansion of introduced noise from seismic air gun surveys, underwater acoustic communication systems, thruster-stabilized drilling and exploration platforms, and increased ship and work vessel traffic,” said Michael Stocker, Director, Ocean Conservation Research. “The impacts of all of this noise pollution on marine life are largely overlooked in the five year plan.”
“If the Obama administration were making its decision based on science rather than politics, drilling in the Arctic would be a nonstarter,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska Director, Center for Biological Diversity. “The Arctic Ocean is America’s last best wilderness. Launching massive industrial drilling operations risks America’s Arctic legacy for oil company profits.”
“The Arctic is the last wild ocean on the planet. Its waters and the abundant life they support are simply too sensitive to be drilled – especially since neither the oil industry nor scientists have identified a proven way to contain or clean up a spill in the Arctic’s extreme conditions,” said Chuck Clusen, Alaska Project Director, Natural Resources Defense Council. “At the very least, there should be no plan to lease these areas until key scientific studies have been done and until the oil and gas industry can demonstrate its ability to contain and clean up a spill.”
“It’s time for the Obama administration to demonstrate its commitment to sound science and halt any plans to drill in America’s Arctic Ocean,’ said Sierra Weaver, staff attorney, Defenders of Wildlife. “Until we know more about this fragile marine environment and what oil and gas drilling could mean for wildlife like polar bears and bowhead whales, the administration has a responsibility to keep Big Oil far away from these pristine waters.”
“It’s vital that the Obama administration take the right approach in the Arctic, and that means removing the Beaufort and Chukchi leases from this proposed five-year plan,” said Ocean Conservancy’s Arctic Program Director Andrew Hartsig. “We don’t yet have the science to make smart decisions on whether, where, when and how to drill. Right now, the focus should be on improving the information and understanding of this beautiful, but forbidding, region. The Interior Department should work to develop and implement a comprehensive scientific research and monitoring plan for the region, identify and protect the most environmentally sensitive areas and improve oil spill preparedness and response in Arctic waters.”
“With offshore oil spills occurring regularly worldwide and in U.S. waters, the Obama Administration should focus on implementing the many recommendations of the various commissions established after the BP Gulf spill rather than expanding drilling opportunities in near-pristine, ecologically-significant Arctic waters,” said licensed engineer and Arctic Program Director Lois Epstein of The Wilderness Society.
“Yesterday the Obama administration outlined their commitment to science-based decision making in the Arctic. The science here is clear-- oil drilling presents serious risks to the people and wildlife of the Arctic,” said Dan Ritzman, Sierra Club Alaska Program Director. “The focus should be on making our cars cleaner and more efficient, and expanding our transportation choices, not opening our last wild places to Big Oil.”
“We have serious concerns about drilling in the Arctic Ocean, a remote, pristine, and forbidding region where oil companies and the Coast Guard have no capacity to contain or clean up an oil spill,” said Alex Taurel, Legislative Representative with the League of Conservation Voters. “We also lack basic scientific understanding of the Arctic Ocean and the impact massive drilling operations would have on the region’s polar bears, bowhead whales, and other marine life. Instead of expanding risky offshore drilling, we should continue investing in more fuel-efficient cars and other modes of transportation that will free us from our expensive dependence on oil.”
National Audubon Society – Beth Peluso, 907-276-7034, firstname.lastname@example.org
Alaska Wilderness League – Emilie Surrusco, 202-544-5205, Emilie@alaskawild.org
Center for Biological Diversity - Rebecca Noblin, 907-274-1110, email@example.com
Defenders of Wildlife - Caitlin Leutwiler, 202-772-3226, firstname.lastname@example.org
Earthjustice – Jared Saylor, 202-745-5213, email@example.com
League of Conservation Voters - Kate Geller, 202-454-4573, firstname.lastname@example.org
Natural Resources Defense Council - Bob Keefe, 202-289-2373, email@example.com
Ocean Conservation Research - Michael Stoker, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ocean Conservancy - Katie Cline, 202-351-0482, email@example.com
The Wilderness Society - Lois Epstein, 907-748-0448, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sierra Club - Virginia Cramer, 804-225-9113 x 102, email@example.com