Cantwell, House and Senate Dems to Zinke: Send Beaufort Sea Oil Leasing Proposal Back to the Drawing Board

April 24, 2018

Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), led a Democratic letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke calling on him to stop preparations for a potential 2019 oil and gas lease sale in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea.

The lawmakers, joined by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon)– the lead sponsors of the Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act – call the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) March 30 publication of a Call for Information and Nominations in the Beaufort Sea an “attempt to fast-track dangerous and unpopular oil drilling in vulnerable Arctic waters [that] ignores ongoing legal action regarding permanent protections in the region, and will likely end up wasting taxpayer funds and agency resources.” Preparing for a 2019 Beaufort lease sale, which is not in the current offshore oil and gas leasing program, indicates that the administration has already decided on the outcome of their new 5-year planning process before they finish the legally required steps.   

The authors write:

"As BOEM itself previously recognized in excluding the region entirely from offshore oil leasing in the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program, the harsh and fragile Arctic Ocean is incompatible with expanded offshore drilling. A major oil spill in this unique ecosystem would occur more than a thousand miles from the nearest Coast Guard station, with the threat of sea ice in all seasons, subzero temperatures, storms, fog, and complete darkness up to 20 hours a day."

The authors cite likely marine mammal impacts, the importance of transitioning away from fossil fuels, and President Barack Obama’s executive protections of the Beaufort Sea as further reasons to call off the lease sale. The authors put special emphasis on the United States’ climate obligations:

"As last year’s report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program confirms, the world must substantially reduce net global carbon dioxide emissions prior to 2040 relative to present-day values to keep warming below two degrees Celsius and avoid the worst effects of climate change. Expanding oil development in frontier regions like the Arctic Ocean, where any oil would not come to market for decades even if it were discovered and could be developed safely, harms our nation’s urgent need to transition to a low-carbon future."

Republican backers of the drilling proposal frequently ignore the length of time it would take to bring such oil to market. They have not explained how drilling in unsafe conditions in the Beaufort Sea will reduce American energy prices or contribute to a cleaner energy economy.

A copy of the letter is available here.