After a series of calamities in Shell Oil Company's 2012 Arctic drilling program, which included having its oil spill containment dome "crushed like a beer can" (BOEM officials words, not mine), having its drilling rig the Noble Discoverer slip an anchor (and at another point in time catch fire), and ending the season by losing control of its other drilling rig, the Kulluk, which ran aground off the coast of Alaska's Kodiak Island, many questioned whether or not Shell would be back in the Arctic.
On Halloween 2013, Shell Oil Company announced that it would still move forward with drilling in the Chukchi, and officially postponed its efforts in the Beaufort Sea, despite its embarrassments of 2012. Shell also hinted that it might abandon fixing its battered drilling rig, the Kulluk, and announced plans to return with another decades-old drill rig, owned by the infamous company Transocean that operated the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf. As you probably remember, the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and the resulting fire burned out of control for two days until the Deepwater Horizon sank, leaving behind a gushing open well that ended in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
Last week, I met with White House officials to talk about the policies impacting the future of our Arctic Ocean, including leasing and drilling programs and climate change impacts. Quite simply, I asked that the president and his officials add the Arctic to their climate change agenda and create policies to end drilling and leasing in the Arctic Ocean. Here's why. The Arctic ice cap acts like the world's air conditioner by cooling the whole planet, so what impacts this region can seriously impact the rest of us. We are already watching sea levels rise as Arctic ice melts, threatening our coastal areas, like New Orleans and Miami. As we saw just this past week with the typhoon in the Philippines, climate events are happening and we must act now. Fighting climate change means that we must slow our consumption of fossil fuels and close sensitive areas, like America's Arctic Ocean, to drilling.
What happens in the Arctic impacts all of us, and we should all have a say in how it is managed. What the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) calls its "Call for Information and Nominations for the Chukchi Sea" is about to wrap up. This "call" is the first step in a multi-step lease sale process, where the oil industry must provide specific information to support nominations of areas to be considered for leasing. Despite no proven technology for responding to an ice spill in Arctic waters, the Department of the Interior is considering offering new leases in America's Arctic Ocean. Instead, the administration should protect the Arctic Ocean and not approve any new drilling or leasing.
In June, President Obama said, "we can't just drill our way out of the energy and climate challenge that we face." Interior Secretary Jewell recently echoed this sentimentand when talking about the Arctic, said that "some places are just too special to drill." I am hopeful that the president and his administration will heed this advice, and keep our Arctic Ocean safe from any future risky oil leasing or drilling.