Trump opens Arctic Ocean to drilling, despite high risks

A polar bear on the coast of the Arctic Refuge. Coastal areas of the refuge could be devastated by a major oil spill. Image by Hugh Rose.

President Trump just signed an executive order directing the Interior Department to lift drilling restrictions that President Barack Obama imposed in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.

UPDATE: On May 3, Alaska Native groups along with The Wilderness Society and conservation partners filed a lawsuit against President Trump, challenging this decision to jettison a permanent ban on new offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.

Once implemented, Trump’s order will open Arctic waters north of Alaska as well as areas off the Atlantic coast. The order also intends to review oil and gas development in marine sanctuaries in the Pacific and Atlantic.

Reversing Obama’s decision to withdraw Arctic and Atlantic waters from drilling is yet another Trump gift to the oil and gas industry.

“President Trump’s order is almost certainly an opening shot as he tries to lift protections for this fragile offshore region,” Williams added. “It amounts to another brazen power grab for the oil lobby that we, and the American people, will oppose,” said Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams.

This news comes on the heels of Trump’s April 26 order to pave the way for stripping national monuments of protections and March 28 executive orders aimed at rolling back climate change policies and reducing efforts to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.

Oil companies are not prepared to clean oil out of remote, icy waters. Image by Florian Schulz

Astoundingly, Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke told reporters that he had not considered climate change as a factor in the decision to expand the development of fossil fuels. 

"I had not thought about climate change," he is quoted as saying in Climatewire, a trade publication produced by E&E Publishing.

Opening Arctic waters could be devastating for wildlife and the ecology of the Arctic Ocean, as well as for coastal areas of Alaska, including the Arctic Refuge. Currently there is no proven technology for cleaning up oil spills in icy Arctic waters.

“Some places are simply too precious to drill, and foremost is the Arctic Ocean. The chance of a tragic spill in that remote, icy area is simply too high, and the impacts to marine life and the pristine coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could be devastating,” Williams said.