Even as they took a break from Washington for this month’s congressional recess, 61 members of Congress showed their support for America’s Arctic Ocean by sending a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today, urging him not to schedule new Arctic Ocean lease sales until a plan is in place that prioritizes protection of the Arctic’s fragile and abundant marine ecosystem.
Specifically, the letter, spearheaded by Reps. Rush Holt (D-NJ), Lois Capps (D-CA) and David Price (D-NC), addresses the 2012–2017 Outer Continental Shelf drilling program and asks Sec. Salazar to ensure that exploration and drilling would not harm either the Arctic ecosystem or opportunities for subsistence by the people of Alaska’s Arctic coast by deferring any additional Arctic Ocean lease sales from the five-year schedule.
“There are serious concerns about our ability to respond to an oil spill or oil drilling disaster—particularly in harsh Arctic conditions,” Rep. Price said. “Selling new Arctic leases without having a proven response plan that would protect our natural resources in the event of a disaster is putting the cart before the horse.”
“The Arctic is a unique environment with significant hurdles to safe exploration and drilling,” the letter reads. “We fear that including Arctic lease sales in the plan creates momentum favoring leasing regardless of whether we can ensure adequate protections for the area. While difficult, making the right decisions now is imperative for sound long-term planning in the Arctic regarding shipping, infrastructure and ecological protections.”
While the letter thanks the Obama administration for keeping the Atlantic coast, Pacific coast, and North Aleutian Basin out of the final version of the 2012–2017 plan, it notes that the reasoning used to keep leasing out of these areas—local recommendations and lack of infrastructure and oil spill preparedness—are perhaps even more relevant and significant for the Arctic Ocean.
The letter goes on to urge the Obama administration to defer leasing from ecologically important areas; make Arctic lease sales contingent upon the development, implementation, and use of a comprehensive, integrated scientific research and monitoring program; and condition Arctic lease sales on the demonstration of effective oil spill response capability and preparedness.