Ocean Currents

Breaking News: Offshore Drilling Moves Forward in Arctic; Atlantic Spared


Today, the Obama Administration issued a proposed offshore leasing program that contains some good news and some bad news.

First the good news: the Administration’s proposed program will protect the Atlantic Ocean from oil and gas leasing until 2022.

Last year, the Administration signaled that it was considering opening the Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Virginia to risky offshore oil drilling. Federal waters in the Atlantic provide vital habitat for marine mammals and fish, and support thousands of coastal communities and billions of dollars in business from fishing, tourism and more. Allowing oil leasing in the Atlantic would have opened a new frontier for drilling and jeopardized these existing uses and values. Today’s proposed program precludes leasing in the Atlantic Ocean and eliminates the threat of Atlantic drilling for years to come—a big step in the right direction for the whales and sea turtles that call the Atlantic home.

However, not all the news is good: the proposed five-year leasing program would still allow risky oil and gas leasing to go forward in the Arctic Ocean.

Last year, Shell’s Arctic drilling efforts failed and the oil industry retreated from the region. But the risks remain: offshore drilling could cause a major oil spill that would be all but impossible to clean up in remote and icy Arctic waters. On top of that, Arctic wildlife continues to face an uncertain future as the region warms and as summer sea ice retreats. For all these reasons and more, it doesn’t make sense to hold new oil and gas lease sales in the Arctic Ocean. Fortunately, there’s still time to act. Join Ocean Conservancy in asking the Obama Administration exclude Arctic lease sales from the final version of the five-year program.

In addition to the Atlantic and the Arctic, the proposed five-year program also addresses future oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico. At Ocean Conservancy, we recognize that in the Gulf of Mexico, oil and gas development continues to play an important role in providing domestic energy security, is an important source of jobs and generates significant federal and state revenue. But as drilling goes forward in the Gulf, it is vital that we work to make it as safe as possible for both people and the environment. We must invest in the development of response technology that keeps pace with the development of offshore drilling technology. We must honestly account for the risks of a worst case (or even a best case) spill scenario. And we must ensure that government revenues generated by the leasing of offshore areas are invested in environmental restoration projects that address the impacts of oil and gas drilling and increase the health and vitality of the ecosystems that millions of people rely on for their food work and play.

When it is finalized later this year, the Obama Administration’s five-year oil and gas leasing program will guide decisions about offshore drilling from 2017 until 2022. The Administration deserves praise for its decision not to allow leasing in the Atlantic Ocean. At the same time, all of us who care about the ocean need to convince the Administration that there is no place for new Arctic lease sales in the final program. Join Ocean Conservancy in saying no to risky Arctic leasing. Tell President Obama to drop Arctic leasing from the final version of the 2017 to 2022 leasing program.

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