How does oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean fit in with Obama’s climate plan?

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Source: Environmental Health Perspectives, National Institutes of Health

Source: Environmental Health Perspectives, National Institutes of Health

Royal Dutch Shell is seeking once again to gain U.S. government approval to move forward next year with drilling for oil off the coast of Alaska. What will the U.S. Interior Department’s environmental impact statement conclude about this high-risk, potential oil spill disaster waiting to happen? How will it consider the climate impacts from burning the oil, vis-a-vis alternatives to this activity? 

The New York Times reported (online August 28; print August 29):

Royal Dutch Shell submitted a plan to the federal government on Thursday to try once again to explore for oil in the Alaskan Arctic, following years of legal and logistical setbacks as well as dogged opposition from environmentalists.

While the plan is just a first step in the process, it reflects the energy potential in the Arctic. Shell’s proposed programs consist of two drilling rigs working simultaneously in the Chukchi Sea, which could produce more than 400,000 barrels of oil a day. …

A federal appeals court had ruled that the Interior Department’s environmental impact review was flawed when it sold Shell over $2 billion in oil leases in the Chukchi Sea. …

The Alaskan Arctic is one of the great untapped frontiers for offshore drilling in the United States, with the potential to produce up to a million barrels a day, according to industry experts. …

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management must redo the original inadequate environmental impact assessment by the spring, when Arctic waters begin to open and Shell can start to move its drilling and support vessels into position.

So far the White House seems to be either supporting or standing aside for stepped up development of fossil fuel resources. How does the administration square support for oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean with its claim to be serious about climate change?

The U.S. National Strategy for the Arctic, announced by the White House in May 2013, includes this: “The Arctic region’s energy resources factor into a core component of our national security strategy: energy security. The region holds sizable proved and potential oil and natural gas resources that will likely continue to provide valuable supplies to meet U.S. energy needs.”

Should support for the extra increment of potential oil production from Arctic Ocean drilling really be framed in terms of U.S. “national security”? Or is this more a matter of political collaboration between the governing elite and the oil interests, behind a rhetorical facade of protecting the public? It’s hard to believe the American people will make themselves less secure if they say “no” to this high-risk corporate venture.

Earlier posts:

White House won’t use NEPA effectively on climate and clean energy — Part 1 (August 22)

White House won’t use NEPA effectively on climate and clean energy — Part 2  (August 25)

U.S. Arctic strategy aims to exploit oil and gas for ‘national security’ (May 15, 2013)

Drawing battle lines over impending Arctic Ocean oil drilling – while House Republicans advance radical offshore drilling expansion bill (July 16, 2012)

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