White House defends Arctic drilling plan

White House officials are defending the Obama administration’s decision to approve oil and natural gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

Brian Deese, Obama’s senior climate adviser, said Monday that the administration is looking to limit as much drilling as it can under an agreement with Royal Dutch Shell and that he “would caution against the characterization” that they have opened up the region for more oil exploration. 

ADVERTISEMENT
“Even in the context of the activities that are happening in the current season, we are talking about an application for a permit to drill a single well that is in process right now,” he said on a call with reporters. 

The Obama administration approved Shell’s drilling plan last week, giving the company the right to explore for oil in the Chukchi Sea off the northeastern coast of Alaska.

Officials have looked to emphasize their oversight of the project, noting that regulators are present on the drilling rig at all times and that they set strict limits on where Shell can drill to avoid harming local wildlife. 

“You’ve seen by this administration, consistently over the last several years … setting unprecedented high levels of safety standards for Shell or any other company to meet," Deese said. "That has resulted in a process where Shell’s planned activities have been delayed or narrowed quite substantially."

But the decision to grant a drilling permit is controversial, especially among environmentalists who have warned about the Arctic’s sensitive ecosystem and the difficulty associated with cleaning up a potential spill. 

They also say blocking Arctic drilling is an important step toward combating climate change. 

But Deese said granting Shell’s drilling permit doesn’t prevent other Obama administration climate policies from moving forward. 

He also defended oil drilling in general, saying that expanded American oil and gas production is a necessary part of the “transition” from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

“When it can be done safely and appropriately, U.S.-produced oil and natural gas is important, and domestic production has energy security benefits over importing those fuels,” he said. “When it can be done consistent with the highest safety standards, that is going to be our focus.”

Obama heads to Alaska next week to discuss energy policy and climate change in the Arctic. During the trip, Deese said, Obama will “talk about climate issues and the need for a global response.”