Heinrich: Opening Up Arctic Ocean To Drilling Poses Serious Risks

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to President Trump’s executive orders removing protections and moving to reopen risky offshore drilling, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to introduce the Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act, a major piece of legislation to permanently protect the Arctic from offshore drilling. The legislation would prevent any new or renewed leases for the exploration, development, or production of oil, natural gas, or any other mineral in the Arctic Ocean planning area.

“Efforts to pursue offshore drilling in the Arctic are not a responsible and safe way to increase oil and natural gas production, and only exacerbate the already devastating impacts of climate change," said Sen. Heinrich. “Opening up the Arctic Ocean to drilling poses serious risks to the environment, fish and wildlife, and the communities that depend on them. We must get serious about energy independence, and that includes leveraging our traditional energy sources while simultaneously capitalizing on the fast-growing industry of clean energy.”  

The Department of the Interior estimates that there is a 75 percent chance of a large oil spill, exceeding 42,000 gallons, should drilling leases in the Arctic be developed. The Arctic has one of the world’s most delicate ecosystems, as well as some of the most extreme and dangerous navigational conditions, severely limiting ability to respond to an oil spill or accident. To date, there has not been a successful oil and gas operation in the Arctic Ocean. Shell’s initial 2012 venture into the Arctic resulted in an abandoned oil rig and a Coast Guard operation to save eight lives.

The Arctic is also home to endangered species such as bowhead whales, polar bears and ringed seals, as well as invaluable and fragile ecosystems that are critical to local fisheries, indigenous populations and subsistence hunters. Drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean will threaten these species and communities, all for oil that will set back efforts to transition to a clean energy economy.

Because of these costs and dangers, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management removed Arctic Ocean leases from its five-year program for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf. Additionally, former President Obama, in conjunction with actions by the Canadian government, moved to permanently protect large areas of the Arctic Ocean from offshore drilling. However, President Trump’s executive order reversed President Obama’s permanent protections in the Arctic Ocean. President Trump has already signaled a fossil-fuel focused energy plan and explicitly pledged to increase offshore oil and gas drilling.

The bill is also co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Al Franken (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Gary Peters (D-MI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

A copy of the bill is available here