Obama defends Arctic drilling decision

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President Obama on Thursday defended his administration’s decision to allow offshore oil and natural gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean, a move that has been the subject of criticism from environmentalists.

Obama told reporters that although he wants the country to move completely away from fossil fuels at some point, domestic oil and natural gas production is still necessary in the short term.

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“I believe that we are going to have to transition off of fossil fuels as a planet in order to prevent climate change,” Obama said at a press conference at Camp David during his meeting with Middle Eastern delegates on defense, security and other topics.

“I think it is important to also recognize that this is going to be a transition process,” he said. “In the meantime, we are going to continue to use fossil fuels, and when it can be done safely, and appropriately, U.S. production of oil and natural gas is important.”

Obama said he’d rather get the oil and gas domestically, “with all the safeguards and standards that we have,” than import it from countries with worse environmental standards.

Obama’s decision Monday to approve Shell’s drilling plan for this summer brought extremely negative responses from environmentalists, who said it is nearly impossible to drill in the Arctic safely. The critics asserted that Shell’s botched 2012 drilling attempt was evidence of these problems.

Greens also complained that the oil and gas produced would exacerbate climate change. Environmental activist and 350.org founder Bill McKibben accused Obama in a New York Times opinion piece of denying climate change science.

On the safety front, Obama said BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico made him mindful of the dangers of offshore drilling. As a consequence, Shell is being held to extremely high standards for the drilling it’s planning northwest of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea, he asserted.

“Based on those very high standards, Shell had to go back to the drawing board, revamp its approach and the experts at this point have concluded that they have met those standards,” he said.

Shell still has some minor federal approvals to obtain, but it plans to drill up to six exploratory wells starting this summer.