THE BLOG
12/05/2013 12:39 pm ET | Updated Feb 04, 2014

Expanding Oil Drilling in the Arctic? Bad idea

President Obama's "all of the above" energy strategy just doesn't fit in many places, especially not in the Arctic Ocean. As the Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world and melting at record rates, the Obama administration wants to know if additional oil drilling in more places in the Chukchi Sea is a good idea.

The agency in charge of the leasing areas on the outer continental shelf for offshore oil and gas activities has already offered tens of millions of acres of the Arctic Ocean to oil companies, but now the agency is considering a plan to open up even more of this extraordinary part of the planet to Big Oil.

The question is -- can we afford to drill for oil in one of the most pristine, productive ocean ecosystems in the world right when we need to take aggressive action to limit climate change?

Scientists have calculated a "carbon budget," which is the amount of carbon dioxide we can safely release into the atmosphere before 2050 and stay in the range of a 2-degree temperature rise. The IPCC says no more than 820 billion metric tons of carbon can be released, of which 515 already had been by 2011. Burning even a portion of the already discovered fossil fuel reserves gets us beyond the upper limit. According to the International Energy Agency: "[n]o more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2°C goal." We should not be investing in exploring for even more oil in the most extreme, risky, and special places when we can't even afford to burn the oil from known, existing reserves.

Americans are driving less - consuming less fuel as fewer people own cars and those that do are driving less, according to a new report by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. And as more renewable energy comes online, as more stringent fuel efficiency standards go into effect, the last place we should be drilling for oil is the Arctic Ocean.

President Obama has stated that "we can't have an energy strategy for the last century that traps us in the past. We need an energy strategy for the future..." Drilling in high-risk places like the freezing waters of the Arctic Ocean is a backwards-looking strategy when we need to look forward to meet energy needs and limit the effects of climate change. Fighting climate change means that we must slow our consumption of fossil fuels and prevent drilling in places like the Arctic Ocean.

The Arctic Ocean is unique and globally important. Scientists call it one of the most productive ocean ecosystems in the world, providing a sustainable food source for not only the local communities, but for many fish-lovers here in the U.S. Its vast pristine waters and ice provide nutrients and essential habitat for a multitude of organisms, ranging from walruses to ice seals to whales to millions of seabirds to the top predator mammal, the polar bear. It supports iconic wildlife and vibrant indigenous cultures already under tremendous stress and suffering the effects of climate change.

The failures of Shell Oil's drilling efforts last year demonstrate that industry is not ready to handle Arctic offshore conditions. Basic information is missing to assess the impacts of drilling in the Arctic Ocean, let alone responsibly manage it. And no technology currently exists to clean up oil spilled in frozen seas.

And at the same time it is considering new lease sales in the Arctic Ocean, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is reviewing a new proposal from Shell Oil to conduct exploration drilling in the Chukchi Sea in 2014. Yes -- this is the same multi-national oil company that blew it so badly last year in the Arctic Ocean, losing control of not one, but two different oil rigs, running one of them into an island off the Coast of Alaska, incurring $1.1 million for violations of the Clean Air Act, and remains the subject of multiple investigations relating to its operations.

Shell's drilling effort last year demonstrated one thing with vivid clarity -- even the largest, most profitable oil company in the world cannot mobilize and operate safely in the Arctic Ocean. Big Oil's track record speaks for itself and has no business drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean is the very definition of a risky addiction. It also takes take us in the wrong direction when it comes to addressing the challenges of climate change. President Obama can make a generational commitment to reduce our country's dependence on dirty fuels and embrace his role as a global leader in the effort to combat climate change by leaving the oil in the ground and preventing oil drilling in the pristine waters of the Arctic Ocean.