In January 2015, the Department of the Interior (DOI) released a draft of its Outer Continental Shelf five-year plan; this plan will guide oil and gas development in areas including the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean and Arctic Ocean from 2017-2022. Unfortunately, in this plan DOI included three new lease sales in Alaska, including two in the waters of the Alaskan Arctic: the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.
In order to facilitate public comments on this new plan, DOI held hearings across Alaska to give Alaskans a chance to ask questions and share their concerns about the proposed five-year plan. I attended the open house hearing in Anchorage and was excited to hear Alaskans speaking up for one of our most precious resources: our Arctic Ocean.
The meeting was an open house format, which was new to me…and to BOEM. Stations were set up around a large hotel ballroom and BOEM employees from across the country stood by waiting to answer questions. I appreciated the opportunity to ask specific questions to the drafters of the five-year plan, but lost was the dynamism of testimonial hearings. It was more difficult to engage with other members of the public, to understand their perspectives and create a dialogue. Luckily, thanks to outstanding organizing work around the hearing – with a tip of the hat to our friends at Sierra Club – it was easy to spot the “No Arctic Drilling” stickers on many lapels and jackets as people strolled around and looked closely at maps.
There are many reasons why BOEM needs to hear from the public on why drilling shouldn’t move forward in the Arctic. The Chukchi Sea is already threatened by Shell Oil, a company determined to force its way into unwelcoming Arctic seas. Remember Shell’s disastrous 2012 drilling season? We have no reason to believe that offshore drilling can be done safely in the Arctic. Even the Department of the Interior recently acknowledged that there is a 75% chance of a major oil spill occurring if leases are developed in the Chukchi Sea. These odds are unacceptable and place Arctic Ocean ecosystems, and the indigenous cultures that depend upon them, in harm’s way. Knowing that there is a high likelihood of an oil spill and allowing new development anyway is simply irresponsible.
We also continue to await a final decision on Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193 – we hope that, instead of rushing to allow to Shell to drill this summer, the administration gets the analysis right and fully informs the public about the dangers of drilling in an Arctic environment.
The Department of the Interior will continue to accept public comment on its draft plan for future leasing in the Arctic Ocean until March 30, 2015, and I encourage you to share your thoughts! You can submit an online comment below!