Obama administration lays out new Arctic drilling plan

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The Obama administration recently laid out a new plan for Arctic drilling that focuses on protecting the environment and bolstering international agreements as melting ice allows for more commerce and development.

“The Arctic region’s energy resources factor into a core component of our national security strategy: energy security,” reads the Arctic plan. “The region holds sizable proved and potential oil and natural gas resources that will likely continue to provide valuable supplies to meet U.S. energy needs.”

“Within the context of this broader energy security strategy, including our economic, environmental and climate policy objectives, we are committed to working with stakeholders, industry, and other Arctic states to explore the energy resource base, develop and implement best practices, and share experiences to enable the environmentally responsible production of oil and natural gas as well as renewable energy,” the White house plan’s authors continue.

The Arctic Circle holds about 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered gas deposits, according to the administration, as well as vast amounts of minerals, including rare earth elements, iron ore and nickel.

However, oil and gas exploration in the region has been under fire from environmentalists since Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic drilling rig ran ashore last December. Even though the accident was caused by a storm, not drilling activities, environmental groups have said it shows that it’s too difficult to safely drill in the region.

Critics say the administration’s plan is too light on the details.

“The devils will most surely be in the details, and there will be many, since this administration has been putting Alaska through hell … from watching the Alaska Pipeline dry up, to stopping mining, to blocking roads that would allow people to safely get to the hospital,” said Daniel Kish, president of the Institute for Energy Research.

The Arctic plan lays out that the administration will work closely with the state, Alaskan tribes, other U.S. stakeholders and the international community on development. The plan also focuses on protecting the Arctic from environmental harm and global warming.

“We seek a collaborative and innovative approach to manage a rapidly changing region. We must advance U.S. national security interests, pursue responsible stewardship, and strengthen international collaboration and cooperation, as we work to meet the challenges of rapid climate-driven environmental change,” according to the White House plan.

“Our economic development and environmental stewardship must go hand-in-hand,” reads the plan. “The unique Arctic environment will require a commitment by the United States to make judicious, coordinated infrastructure investment decisions, informed by science.”

“Alaska is by far the richest resource state in the union, but rather than use those resources to strengthen the U.S., the Obama administration’s actions treat it as the Isle of Lilliput,” Kish added.

The Interior Department has said it will issue new rules to address oil spills and other safety concerns for Arctic drilling in the wake of the Shell oil rig accident, which could either deter or encourage future oil exploration depending on how the rules are written, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski recently put pressure on the Interior Department to issue the rules in advance to provide certainty for energy companies looking to develop the area.

“It is important that we have those regulations that are clearly defined in advance — well in advance, hopefully — of the [drilling] season, so that level of certainty moving forward is there,” said Murkowski.

The Obama administration has also come under fire for attempting to block a major gold and copper mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska before any actual plans for the mine have been put forward. Last month, the EPA released its second review of the potential Pebble Mine, and concluded that mining operations there would claim at least 24 miles of streams in the area and result in the loss of 1,200 to 4,800 acres of wetlands.

“Attempts to prejudge any mining project before the full details of that proposal are submitted to the EPA for review is unacceptable,” said Murkowski. “If the EPA has concerns about the impact of a project there is an appropriate time to raise them — after a permit application has been made, not before.”

The Obama administration has also been criticized for one White House official saying that drilling in ANWR was “off the table.” Energy adviser Heather Zichal told reporters that expanded drilling is a “no-go” for the Obama administration.

“No. ANWR is off the table. Our existing [outer continental shelf] plan and nothing else,” said Zichal.

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