Washington, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley introduced legislation to prohibit irresponsible and unacceptable drilling in the Arctic, which puts at risk the health of local ecosystems, communities, and the global environment. The Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act of 2023 would prevent any new or renewed leases for the exploration, development, or production of oil, natural gas, or any other mineral in the Arctic Ocean Planning Area.
“Communities across our country and around the world are already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate chaos, and a spill in the Arctic would be an environmental catastrophe of extraordinary proportions,” said Senator Merkley. “Further, Arctic drilling would skyrocket carbon pollution and cause catastrophic damage to our global economy and environment. That is beyond reckless, and it’s time for Congress to make this region permanently off-limits for oil and gas corporations.”
Arctic Ocean drilling operations would open a tremendous, untapped carbon reserve, setting back critical efforts to address climate chaos. Studies have repeatedly shown that we are approaching the end of our carbon budget, and that three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves – which includes all the oil and gas reserves in the Arctic – must be kept in the ground if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate chaos. A report published just this week concludes that at current rates there are only six years before humans use up the remaining carbon budget (RCB).
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. In the interest of mitigating the direst consequences of climate chaos and protecting the existence of countless endangered species populations, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) removed Arctic leases from its five-year program for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf in 2016. In January 2018, however, the Trump Administration released a new draft proposal to reopen offshore drilling leases three years ahead of schedule.
Treacherous conditions also risk the lives of oil rig workers, who face extreme cold temperatures, rough seas, and extended darkness in the winter months. Shell’s initial venture into the Arctic in 2012 resulted in an abandoned oil rig, a Coast Guard operation to save eights lives, and ended Shell’s Arctic operations after one day. The closest U.S. Coast Guard station to the Arctic, in Kodiak, is more than 900 air miles south of Alaska’s North Slope, limiting its ability to respond to a spill and prevent severe damage to ecosystems, communities, and indigenous subsistence hunters.
The Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act of 2023 is also cosponsored by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Peter Welch (D-VT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ).
Companion legislation was introduced by Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA-02) and Mike Levin (D-CA-49) earlier this year.
The Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act of 2023 is endorsed by Oceana, Sierra Club, and the League of Conservation Voters.
“We cannot continue the vicious cycle of drilling and spilling that wrecks our climate and our coastal communities. Protecting our coasts from destructive offshore drilling remains a crucial step in the path toward a viable renewable energy future. Oceana applauds Senator Merkley for introducing this legislation that will help permanently prevent the dangerous and wide-ranging impacts of further oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Ocean. Toxic oil spills ruin economies, devastate ecosystems, and accelerate climate change. It’s time to build clean energy solutions to safeguard our future from permanent climate devastation,” said Oceana Acting Campaign Director Michael Messmer.
“Arctic lands and waters are some of the last fully intact ecosystems in the United States, and no activity threatens these places more than oil and gas extraction,” said Athan Manuel, Director of Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program. “President Biden has taken much-needed executive action to protect the Arctic Ocean and the communities and wildlife that rely on it from drilling, but those protections could be undone by a future administration. The Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act would provide the permanent protections these precious waters need. Oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters must end – period.”
Full text of the Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act can be found here.