Feds withdraw important areas, but keep Arctic Ocean in drilling plans

Areas proposed for drilling are rich with sea life, including numerous types of whales.

USGS

More work is needed to protect Arctic waters, but President Obama has taken an important step forward.
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management recently released its proposal for a five-year offshore leasing program in the Arctic Ocean. 
 
The five-year off-shore leasing proposal would withdraw areas in the Arctic Ocean that are important to wildlife and communities, but includes leasing for oil and gas exploration and production in large portions of the ocean areas north of Alaska.
 
President Obama took an important step by withdrawing areas in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska’s Arctic coast from future oil and gas leasing. This will help protect marine mammals and their habitat, including Hanna Shoal, a region of shallow water that is known as a biological hot spot. Walruses swim nearly 300 miles round-trip to feed there. Another withdrawal by President Obama is the 25-mile buffer zone along the Chukchi Sea coast, an action that will protect portions of the highly-sensitive National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

BOEM's 2017-2022 leasing plan would allow drilling for oil and gas in other areas of this fragile region, however. 

See map of areas proposed for protection and for leasing below, courtesy of BOEM:
 
 
 
A risky endeavor
Drilling in the Arctic Ocean is incredibly risky, and there are many reasons The Wilderness Society opposes having it in BOEM’s five-year plan at all.

A recent Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement estimated that there is a 75 percent chance of one or more major oil spills happening over the lifetime of drilling operations in the Chukchi Sea. But the Chukchi and Beaufort seas have no U.S Coast Guard facilities to support a response to a major oil spill.

Shell’s series of blunders during its exploratory drilling and mobilization/demobilization operations in 2012 demonstrated numerous challenging obstacles for operating in Arctic waters.

Additionally, the federal government has not made essential changes to prevent deaths and major spills as recommended by expert committees established after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. Those recommendations include increasing liability limits substantially, protecting whistleblowers, and issuing critical Arctic-specific and blowout preventer standards.

“Depending on the location and conditions in place at the time of a major spill, coastal communities and the sensitive coastlines of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska could be greatly harmed,” said Lois Epstein, an Alaska-licensed engineer and arctic program director for The Wilderness Society.

“Without fixing the oversight problems since the BP Gulf tragedy, it’s unconscionable to drill in Arctic waters,” Epstein said.

The Arctic Ocean thrives with sea life and is home to polar bears, walruses, seals, fish and thousands of finback, humpback and beluga whales. Native communities depend on these species to sustain their way of life.

Learn how you can help save another Arctic wonder --the Arctic Refuge

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