Reps. David Price (N.C.-04), Rush Holt (N.J.-12), and Lois Capps (Calif.-23) led a group of 64 members of Congress Wednesday, Feb. 8, in sending a letter to Interior Secretary Salazar thanking the administration for excluding new oil and gas development in the Atlantic or Pacific and urging caution against too quickly moving forward with additional leasing in the Arctic. The Members have joined a groundswell of voices building over recent months to protect the Arctic.
During the public comment period that ended Wednesday, Feb. 8, on the Obama administration’s proposed Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing program for 2012-2017, more than 250,000 people have urged Obama to remove the two Arctic lease sales proposed in the draft plan. In addition, more than 500 distinguished U.S. and international scientists signed an open letter asking the Obama administration to follow through on its stated commitment to science in managing resource extraction in the Arctic.
The administration’s proposal would open the Arctic to new oil and gas development even though there is no viable method to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic’s extreme conditions and scientists lack basic information about the Arctic’s fragile marine environment.
“Last summer, a report from the nation’s leading scientists identified major gaps in scientific knowledge about the Arctic ecosystem and the impacts of drilling in the region,” Price said. “There are also serious questions about our ability to respond effectively to a spill in Arctic conditions. America has already learned the pitfalls of allowing risky oil and gas drilling to proceed without the proper safeguards in place to protect the environment and ensure quick spill containment. We should listen to the scientists, and not repeat our mistakes.”
“The Arctic is among the most challenging places on Earth to drill for oil—frigid, remote, dark and underdeveloped,” said Holt. “It is bizarre for oil companies to suggest that, despite their failure to contain the Deepwater Horizon spill under much kinder conditions, they are fully prepared to manage an Arctic disaster. Secretary Salazar should ensure that Arctic waters are managed as public trust, enforcing strong protections for public health and the environment.”
“While I’m pleased Secretary Salazar is committed to preventing new oil and gas drilling off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, I remain concerned with any proposal that would allow new drilling in the Arctic Ocean,” Capps said. “Despite assurances from the oil industry that it’s safe and some recent steps taken by the Interior Department to improve safety and environmental requirements, offshore drilling is a dirty and dangerous business. My constituents know firsthand that oil spills can and do happen and how hard they are to clean up. They can tell you that if it was that hard to clean-up the spill in the relatively calm conditions off Santa Barbara, it’s going to be near-impossible to respond to and contain any spill in the Arctic Ocean.”
The members’ letter notes that there are significant hurdles to resource extraction in the unique Arctic environment and outlines a series of strategies that should be in place prior to including any new leasing in the region.