Top Senate Dem presses Interior to scrap Arctic oil lease sales

The senators’ Sept. 21 letter argues that new leasing off Alaska’s northern coast should be contingent on the existence of a “comprehensive” scientific monitoring program, demonstration of oil-spill response capacity and other conditions.

Interior’s 2012-2017 offshore oil-and-gas lease sale schedule includes sales in Arctic waters in the final two years of the program, but the letter says they should be removed.

The senators say they recognize that the department's five-year plan includes commitments to “mitigating and eliminating environmental and subsistence conflict,” but they add that the Arctic is a “unique environment with significant hurdles."

The lawmakers also note that the Arctic has “extremely limited infrastructure” and that the nearest Coast Guard station is 1,000 miles away.

“In the event of an oil spill the response may be too slow and irreversible damage to ecosystems and species could result. Consequently, we strongly disagree that leases in the Arctic Ocean should be included in the 2012-2017 program,” the letter states. Sales in the Arctic seas are currently planned for 2016 and 2017.