By Zack Colman - 05/10/13 06:00 PM EDT
Environmentalists in Obama's base want the administration to prevent Arctic drilling. They argue Arctic energy resources are only now available because climate change caused by burning fossil fuels has diminished ice shelves.
At the same time, Obama has pledged to take on climate change during his second term.
But while the president wants to combat climate change, he also wants to boost domestic energy supplies to reduce reliance on other nations, a senior administration official noted.
Disappearing ice shelves have exposed more oil, gas and minerals to potential drilling. The official said the Arctic houses 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of undiscovered natural gas.
That’s ignited a race to develop resources, leaving nations and energy firms angling for position while green groups lobby governments to restrain activity.
The administration official said the White House's Arctic plan intends to lay down markers for developing those resources with minimal environmental disturbance.
The official alluded to recent mishaps by Royal Dutch Shell in the Alaskan Arctic that underscored the different — and difficult — drilling environment of the region.
A series of equipment-related failures pushed Shell to shelve its Arctic ambitions for this year. The incidents led to an Interior Department report that recommended improving interagency coordination on safety and oversight for Arctic drilling.
Green groups said Shell’s experience shows Arctic drilling is too dangerous, and they have pushed the Obama administration to block energy development there.
Emphasizing the region’s harsh drilling conditions is one of the plan’s goals, the administration official said.
The official said the White House would reach out to oil-and-gas businesses, Arctic nations, the state of Alaska and others to hash out options for improving infrastructure — such as refueling stations — and limiting environmental harm.
One of the ways the White House can more effectively safeguard the Arctic from exuberant drillers by striking international and bilateral agreements, the official said.
One of those forums is the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental organization of Arctic nations that focuses on Arctic policy.
Secretary of State John Kerry will attend the Arctic Council’s ministerial meeting next week in Sweden, the State Department said Friday.
Kerry and other foreign ministers will sign the Arctic Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response Agreement. That document would be the second legally binding accord among Arctic countries, according to the State Department.
The agreement seeks to improve coordination and planning among Arctic nations to quickly respond to oil spills.
Aside from the Arctic Council, the administration official also said the White House wants Congress to ratify the United Nations Law of the Seas Treaty.
The treaty governs maritime claims to territory and sea routes. Nations that want to plant their flag in particular spots vet their stakes through member countries, as Russia plans to do for a portion of the Arctic continental shelf.
U.S. efforts to adopt the treaty stalled in the Senate last year. Some Republicans opposed the arrangement because they said it would diminish U.S. sovereignty.
While then Obama administration wants the U.S. to sign that treaty, it has not engaged lawmakers on the matter, the official said.