WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley announced the Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act of 2015, a major piece of legislation to stop offshore Arctic 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 planning area.
“A spill in the Arctic would be an environmental catastrophe of extraordinary proportions – and such a spill is inevitable if drilling proceeds,” said Merkley. “The ecosystem in the Arctic is too fragile and the ability to respond to a spill in this region is nonexistent. Drilling in the Arctic Ocean is the height of irresponsibility. We need to put it off limits, permanently.”
The Department of Interior estimates that there is a 75 percent chance of a large oil spill exceeding 42,000 gallons of oil should drilling leases in the Arctic be developed. To date, there has not been a successful oil and gas operation in the Arctic Ocean. The Arctic region is home to one of the world’s most delicate ecosystems, extreme and treacherous conditions, and severely limited capacity to respond to an oil spill or accident.
In 2010, when BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded and began to sink, the nearest Coast Guard station was approximately 132 air miles away in New Orleans. In contrast, current proposals by Shell Oil Company to drill in the Chukchi Sea are over 900 air miles from the nearest Coast Guard station in Kodiak and over 1,200 miles from the nearest deep-water port in Dutch Harbor. The Gulf has one of the most comprehensive search and rescue infrastructures in North America, yet Deepwater Horizon dumped an estimated 4.9 million barrels (210 million gallons) of oil into the Gulf over 87 days.
The Arctic is home to endangered species such as bowhead whales, polar bears, and ringed seals, as well as invaluable and fragile ecosystems that are critical to fisheries, migratory birds, indigenous populations and subsistence hunters. Opening development on a new fossil fuel reservoir in the Arctic not only puts the natural resources, ecosystems, and the dependent communities at risk, it also contradicts the President’s Climate Action Plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce climate change.
In June, Senator Merkley led a group of Senators in authoring a letter to President Obama urging the Administration to rescind Shell Oil Company’s conditional Exploration Permit in the Chukchi Sea. Senator Merkley wrote that new lease sales in the Chukchi Sea and Arctic Ocean are an unnecessary risk that threatens local communities, fragile ecosystems, and efforts at climate change mitigation.
The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN).