Putting Obama’s Arctic drilling announcement in perspective

by Robert Gardner

May 27, 2010

The news today out of Washington has been somewhat promising, but these are small steps in a very long march towards a clean energy economy — an economy with none of the potential for massive ecological destruction such as we’ve seen in the Gulf.

Greenpeace image: BP Deepwater Disaster and oil spill0
Greenpeace has been bearing witness to the BP Deepwater Disaster and oil spill for the past month. Click here to read more blogs, view videos and more images.

Minerals Management Service (MMS) Director Elizabeth Birnbaum submitted her resignation letter this morning. Also today the Obama Administration renewed a moratorium in the pristine Beaufort and Chukchi seas in Alaska for the next 6 months, canceled the pending lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and Virginia, and suspended action on 33 wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Greenpeace welcomes any and all investigations of the root causes of the BP Deepwater Disaster. Furthermore, Greenpeace welcomes the President’s call to develop clean, renewable sources of energy. These are all positive steps.

But preventing another massive ecological disaster can only be guaranteed by a complete and permanent legislative ban on all new drilling off of America’s coasts.

To put today’s news into perspective: The Washington Post is reporting that BP’s oil spill in the Gulf is officially the largest in American history, and the company’s latest round of bungling attempts at stopping this massive flow have not been successful. Enough is enough.

In order to move forward from this tragedy in a meaningful way, Congress must:

  • Ban all new offshore drilling so that no more of America’s coastlines are threatened with ecological catastrophes such as the BP Deepwater Disaster and oil spill;
  • Place stricter regulations on extractive industries (coal and oil) to make them safer and more accountable for the damage they cause;
  • And pass legislation that jumpstarts the clean energy revolution.

Also, Arctic Alaska must be taken off the table permanently. Harsh weather and ice-infested waters are the norm in the region, and the risk of blowouts is even higher than in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil spill “clean-up” in the remote environment, where the nearest Coast Guard station is a thousand miles away, is even more impossible than it is in the relatively more hospitable and accessible Gulf. As a result of today’s announcements, Arctic Alaska is out of harm’s way for a mere 6 months. Shell’s Arctic drilling threatens distinctive species such as polar bears, walrus, seals and whales, as well as the Alaskan Native communities who have relied on them for culture and subsistence for millennia. Alaska’s Arctic and its inhabitants deserve better.

We can not afford another catastrophe on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy — especially in Alaska where oil spill response infrastructure is virtually non-existent. We’re learning in the Gulf that there is no such thing as cleaning up an oil spill.

Half measures, loopholes, and giveaways to polluters won’t cut it this time. Now is the moment for action.

Because of today’s announcements concerning the suspension of pending leases in Alaska, we have happily closed our online petition calling on Interior Secretary Salazar to ban Arctic drilling. But your members of Congress still need to hear from you. Sign our petition to Congress telling them that now is the time for a permanent ban on ALL new offshore drilling.

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