Just In Time, A Time-Out On Arctic Oil Drilling

President gives reprieve from exposing Arctic to oil spill potential

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Over the last month, while oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico has poisoned thousands of square miles of waters, coasts, fish and wildlife, there has not been much occasion for celebration. Today, there is finally some good news.

The Obama administration’s announcement to pause plans by the Shell Oil Company to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in America’s Arctic Ocean means these pristine, fragile ocean waters will remain protected for now. Endangered and threatened bowhead whales, polar bears, seals and other wildlife will survive. The Native communities that rely on the bounty of the Arctic Ocean will not face the threat of Shell’s operations. No oil will be spilled by Shell and no catastrophic disaster like the one currently happening in the Gulf of Mexico will occur.

This is a victory driven by all of you who saw what was happening in the Gulf and took action to make sure it didn’t happen in the Arctic. Your calls and emails made a difference.

We are pleased the Obama administration recognized the glaring holes in Shell’s plan to drill in the Arctic Ocean and the need to fully and completely study the causes of the Gulf spill—including failures at the Minerals Management Service—before allowing Arctic Ocean drilling to go forward. An oil spill in the harsh conditions of the Arctic Ocean, where 20-foot swells and sub-zero temperatures are common, would be catastrophic. The explosion and spill in the Gulf of Mexico reminds us that offshore oil drilling comes with continued risks of oil spills and environmental destruction. Pausing oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean shows this administration is taking seriously their commitment to follow the science in policy decision making.

We applaud the administration for its decision to call a timeout on Arctic Ocean drilling, but with the applause comes a note of caution. This pause on offshore drilling in the Arctic is a step in the right direction, but only a temporary one. We must remember that much more needs to be understood about the Arctic before we could support a decision to allow drilling in this region.

Last week, 78 members of Congress delivered a message to the administration that a time out was needed in the Arctic. We are confident that if the administration applies true scientific rigor to the gap analysis due this October, there will be many more questions regarding Arctic Ocean drilling.

We have a responsibility to protect, not rush to exploit, the pristine beauty of the Arctic Ocean and surrounding coasts.

Trip Van Noppen served as Earthjustice’s president from 2008 until he retired in 2018. A North Carolina native, Trip said of his experience: “Serving as the steward of Earthjustice for the last decade has been the greatest honor of my life.”