Several former top military officials are pushing the Obama administration to push forward on oil and gas drilling in the American Arctic, while green activists and climate scientists express concern about the region’s beluga whales.
Former Defense Secretary and former Republican Sen. William Cohen argues that halting the plans to drill would decimate the country’s “ability to protect our interests and to promote cooperation in the region.”
Cohen was among 16 foreign policy specialists and military men who signed a letter to Obama suggesting that drilling was a crucial component to a sober foreign policy.
“Excluding the Arctic from the [leasing] program would signal retreat, needlessly reducing U.S. flexibility for promoting our national interests and our ability to ensure international cooperation, including ensuring best practices in Arctic drilling, in this sensitive and increasingly strategic region,” the specialists wrote in the letter Thursday.
The letter was signed by former Supreme Allied Commander General Robert E. Kramek, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld Jr., as well as by former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security James M. Loy.
They argued that if the U.S. chooses to opt out of oil development in the Artic, then Russia will be more than happy to fill the void. They also note that the U.S. Arctic’s capabilities have “dramatically declined” as Russia continues plowing unknown amounts of money new energy development projects.
“Keeping the Arctic in the program maintains our options; exclusion irreversibly eliminates them,” the experts noted, referring to their belief that excluding drilling for 5 years hurts the U.S.’s ability to conduct environmental research in the area.
The group’s letter was in response to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s proposal to allow oil and gas leasing in 2017-2022 in the offshore Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico, which would allow the government agency to lease contracts to drill in the Beaufort Sea.
As the vaunted military brass urge the administration to drill more, climate scientists have implored President Barack Obama to cease offshore drilling in Arctic waters, writing a letter to the administration Wednesday noting “no new oil and gas leasing or exploration should be allowed in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the foreseeable future.”
“The Arctic is home to vibrant communities of Indigenous peoples, provides vital marine habitats for iconic wildlife such as beluga whales, walruses, and ice seals found nowhere else in the United States, and plays a critical role in global climate systems,” the group of climate scientists write. “Certain offshore areas—often those with durable physical or oceanographic attributes—make critically important contributions to ecosystem functioning and subsistence.”
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