Pew Applauds Withdrawal of Bristol Bay from Oil Drilling and Cautious Approach for New U.S. Arctic Ocean Leasing
The Pew Environment Group today commended the Obama administration's decision to withdraw Bristol Bay from its national offshore energy plan and proceed cautiously with new U.S. Arctic Ocean oil and gas leases.
“We thank President Obama and Interior Secretary Salazar for protecting Bristol Bay, one of the planet's richest marine ecosystems,” said Marilyn Heiman, director of the Pew Environment Group's U.S. Arctic program. “Bristol Bay must be permanently protected for future generations as the home of the world's largest wild sockeye salmon run and part of a region providing more than 40 percent of our nation's seafood. With fish stocks declining around the globe, we cannot afford to put Bristol Bay's vibrant fisheries at risk.”
The Obama administration removed Bristol Bay in the southeast Bering Sea and new U.S. Arctic Ocean oil and gas leases from the 2007-2012 plan after conservationists, fishermen and Alaska Natives raised concerns about the environmental impact of drilling in a region already stressed by climate change. Under the offshore energy plan left by the previous administration, about one-fifth, or 5.6 million acres, of Bristol Bay would have been opened to oil drilling.
The Obama administration also decided not to offer new oil and gas leases in the U.S. Arctic Ocean in the 2007-2012 national offshore plan. An additional 69 million acres in the region's Beaufort and Chukchi seas could have been offered for leasing this summer.
“President Obama should be commended for proceeding carefully on new Arctic leasing until better spill response capabilities are in place and we know how to protect this sensitive region,” Heiman said. “Thorough science and planning must come before drilling in any marine waters. There should be no new lease sales in the Arctic Ocean until thorough research determines how such development will affect the traditional way of life of Alaska Natives and iconic species like the endangered bowhead whale.”
Oil and gas drilling creates environmental dangers such as noise from seismic testing, air pollution from ship traffic and the ever-present risk of oil spills. The Obama administration recently gave the green light for Shell to drill exploratory wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas next summer under existing leases.
“A spill would be devastating because the technology needed to clean up oil in broken ice has not been proven to work in the U.S. Arctic Ocean,” Heiman said.
- After the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, Congress spent over $100 million in taxpayers' dollars to buy back oil leases. Congress also enacted a drilling moratorium in Bristol Bay that was upheld for almost two decades by Republican and Democratic administrations.
- A federal court challenge of the 2007-2012 plan resulted in an order a year ago requiring the government to revise its environmental impact statement. Bristol Bay is home to endangered North Pacific right whales, dozens of other marine mammals, hundreds of fish species and one of the planet's greatest concentrations of seabirds.
- The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, causing a rapid melt of the ice pack and disrupting the habitat of marine mammals and other ice-dependent species that Alaska Natives rely on for food.