Earlier this month, about a block from the White House, activists from across the U.S. shared their stories and delivered more than two million comments to the Obama administration calling for an end to new offshore drilling.
In January of 2015, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released its draft five-year oil and gas leasing plan for 2017-2022, outlining areas that the government will potentially open to offshore oil drilling. The plan, as drafted, includes leasing areas in the Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska. To put it another way, that’s two areas where an oil spill could occur, causing irreparable harm to the ocean and its inhabitants, already vulnerable ecosystems, and coastal communities that rely on the health of the ocean for fishing and tourism.
“Opening up the East Coast to drilling would affect every state,” Senator Ed Markey said during a teleconference held the same day. “Offshore oil spills don’t respect state boundaries. We have already seen the series of mistakes and safety lapses that occurred when Shell tried to drill offshore and in the Arctic, and big oil is now calling for opening the East Coast to drilling.”
Offshore drilling in places like the Arctic just doesn’t make sense. The area’s remoteness, harsh environment and cold temperatures would create significant barriers to cleanup in the event of a major oil spill. The consequences could be devastating—the Arctic is home to sensitive and imperiled species such as bowhead whales, pacific walruses and bearded seals that need a pristine environment to survive. A spill could also bring disastrous consequences to Native communities living on the North Slope, which rely on subsistence fishing and hunting in the ocean as a way of life.
Not only are the risks too high for the Arctic people and wildlife, but also for the planet as a whole. Continuing oil exploration in the Arctic would fly in the face of President Obama’s historic strides to address climate change and commitments made during global climate agreement in Paris to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Temperatures are rising twice as fast in the Arctic compared to the rest of the world.
Slowly but surely, the cost of the environmental and health impacts of offshore drilling are adding up. Just last year, after years of Earthjustice-led legal battles, Shell announced that it would abandon its Arctic Ocean drilling program. This exciting announcement probably never would have happened without the voices of so many people rising up against offshore drilling, and even some creative “Kayaktivism.” The past year brought a major victory, but the fight against Shell isn’t over.
And it’s not just environmentalists who are pushing back against offshore drilling in the Arctic and beyond. Ten members of the Senate sent a letter to the administration last week, conveying the same message.
Plans for offshore leases place us at a crossroads, and you can be part of ensuring that we are on the right path. Voice your support for coastal communities and imperiled wildlife everywhere and join the growing movement to oppose offshore drilling.