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Merkley reintroduces bill to block Arctic Ocean drilling

Opening new areas 'height of irresponsibility'

WASHINGTON - In response to President Trump’s executive orders removing protections and moving to reopen risky offshore drilling, Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., on Friday reintroduced the Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act, a major piece of legislation to permanently protect the Arctic from offshore drilling.

The legislation would prevent any new or renewed leases for the exploration, development, or production of oil, natural gas, or any other mineral in the Arctic Ocean planning area.

“Opening up new areas to oil exploration in the Arctic at a time when we are already dealing with the devastating impacts of climate change is the height of irresponsibility. The Trump administration’s reckless efforts to open a vast new source of carbon pollution would threaten local communities, resources and ecosystems, while exacerbating the climate change already damaging our economy and environment,” said Merkley. “The Arctic is much too fragile to withstand the type of oil spill that would be inevitable if drilling proceeds. In order to prevent environmental catastrophe, we must put the Arctic Ocean completely and permanently off limits to drilling.”

The Department of the Interior estimates that there is a 75 percent chance of a large oil spill, exceeding 42,000 gallons, should drilling leases in the Arctic be developed. The Arctic has one of the world’s most delicate ecosystems, as well as some of the most extreme and dangerous navigational conditions, severely limiting ability to respond to an oil spill or accident. To date, there has not been a successful oil and gas operation in the Arctic Ocean. Shell’s initial 2012 venture into the Arctic resulted in an abandoned oil rig and a Coast Guard operation to save eight lives.

The Arctic is also home to endangered species such as bowhead whales, polar bears and ringed seals, as well as invaluable and fragile ecosystems that are critical to local fisheries, indigenous populations and subsistence hunters. Drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean will threaten these species and communities, all for oil that will set back efforts to transition to a clean energy economy.

Because of these costs and dangers, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management removed Arctic Ocean leases from its five-year program for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf. Additionally, former President Obama, in conjunction with actions by the Canadian government, moved to permanently protect large areas of the Arctic Ocean from offshore drilling. However, President Trump has already signaled a fossil-fuel focused energy plan and today explicitly pledged to increase offshore oil and gas drilling.

The truth is, we cannot afford to continue burning fossil fuels for decades upon decades if we want to maintain a safe environment for our children, Merkley said in a news release. The worst impacts of climate change will happen if we allow global warming to exceed 2 degrees Celsius, or almost 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The world must transition aggressively and rapidly away from conventional fossil fuels and toward the use of renewable energy, and we certainly cannot continue to push new, dangerous fossil fuel development.

The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA).

Senator Merkley first introduced the Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act in July 2015. In June of that year, Senator Merkley led a group of Senators in authoring a letter to President Obama urging the administration to rescind Shell Oil Company’s conditional Exploration Permit in the Chukchi Sea. Senator Merkley wrote that new lease sales in the Chukchi Sea and Arctic Ocean are an unnecessary risk that threatens local communities, fragile ecosystems, and efforts at climate change mitigation.

A PDF of the Stop Arctic Drilling Act of 2017 is available here.


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