Marilyn Heiman, director of the Pew Environment Group's U.S. Arctic Program, issued the following statement in response to the Obama administration's announcement today on offshore oil and gas leasing.
“We appreciate the leadership from President Obama on the importance of looking carefully at the nation's energy program to balance exploration with environmental concerns. We are, however, concerned about the pressure this decision puts on the U.S. Arctic Ocean. If we learned anything from the Gulf, it's that oil spill response is challenging—even in temperate waters.
“The Arctic is an extreme, remote and fragile place. We remain very concerned about the ability of industry to clean up an oil spill in the face of gale force winds, 20-foot seas, broken ice, sub-zero temperatures and months of darkness. Any consideration of development in the Arctic Ocean should be conducted with the utmost caution, including listening to the people of the Arctic who subsist off the sea and are very concerned about oil spills affecting their way of life.
“We hope the Interior Department's scoping plans will take a comprehensive, science-based approach that considers adequate spill response in these isolated and severe conditions. We need to avoid irreparable harm to this fragile Arctic marine ecosystem. Any plan should identify important ecological and cultural areas and exclude them from oil and gas activity.
“Administrative reform is not enough. We are strongly urging the Senate to pass offshore energy reform during the lame duck session. Passing these much needed reforms would ensure that any offshore drilling is only carried out after a responsible and science based plan is in place to deal with any potential oil spill. There is too much at stake to move forward without these protections.”