Merkley Leads Senators In Opposition To Dangerous, Recently Re-Opened Arctic Drilling

Merkley Leads Senators In Opposition To Dangerous, Recently Re-Opened Arctic Drilling

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, after a state of emergency was declared in California due to a pipeline oil spill polluting miles of Pacific coastline, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, joined by seventeen other Senators, urged the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to halt all offshore oil and gas drilling permits in the Arctic region.

Merkley, along with Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Gary Peters (D-MI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Al Franken (D-MN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote the letter in response to the Administration’s recent decision to approve drilling by Shell Oil Company in the Chukchi Sea within the Arctic Ocean.

“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. It is an unacceptable and irresponsible decision,” wrote the Senators.

Recent attempts to drill exploration wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas by the Shell Oil Company demonstrate the unpredictability, harsh conditions, and heightened potential for human error that characterize any industrial activity in the Arctic Ocean. Because of these Arctic conditions, there remains no effective way to clean up an oil spill and the region lacks the infrastructure to support an adequately safe drilling or cleanup effort.

A PDF of the letter is available here.

Below is the full text of the letter.


Dear Secretary Jewell: 

We are writing to express our extreme disappointment in the Administration’s recent decision to approve drilling in the Chukchi Sea within the Arctic Ocean. We strongly urge the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to halt all offshore oil and gas drilling permits in the Arctic region, one of the world’s most delicate ecosystems, given the extreme and treacherous conditions, and the severely limited capacity for response and cleanup. 

In reinstating Shell’s Arctic drilling permit, we are concerned that the Department of Interior did not fully account for the likelihood of oil spills and the resulting cultural and environmental impacts from fossil fuel development in the Arctic region. Your agency’s own analysis of Sale 193 estimated a 75 percent chance of large oil spill if the Chukchi leases are developed.  

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. It is an unacceptable and irresponsible decision. 

We applaud President Obama’s decision earlier this year to formally withdraw critical ecological areas in the Arctic Ocean such as Barrow, Kaktovik, and along the Chukchi Sea coast. Withdrawing these areas from oil and gas development provides vital protection to cultural resources such as subsistence, fishing, and hunting areas, as well as whale migration routes. We believe similar precautions should be taken in the Chukchi Sea and throughout the Arctic. 

The oil and gas industry has demonstrated inadequacies in oil spill prevention and response in challenging Arctic waters, and the region lacks the infrastructure to support either drilling operations or clean up response with adequate safety or effectiveness. As you know, Shell’s previous exploration attempts in 2012 put numerous lives at risk, including those of the Coast Guard crews who handled complex and treacherous conditions to safely remove 18 people from a detached and free-floating oil rig. We advocate that Arctic leases, such as those sold in the Chukchi Sea or in the proposed 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, should be retired or withdrawn along with Barrow and Kaktovik. 

The Arctic region is home to vibrant communities, iconic wildlife, and some of the last wild places relatively untouched by industrial development.  For centuries, Alaska Natives have subsisted off of the natural resources of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, relying on animals that live in or pass through the sea to continue their traditional subsistence way of life. It is irresponsible to jeopardize their cultural and livelihoods with risk-laden and unnecessary drilling operations.   

 We urge the Department of Interior to prioritize ecosystem health, the safety and cultural practices of local communities, and to prohibit drilling and leasing in the Arctic Ocean.