What a few weeks it has been. Just a short time after it was revealed that the oil industry had all but abandoned any near-term efforts to drill in the pristine Arctic Ocean – relinquishing hundreds of leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas – pro-oil forces seem to have been shocked into action.

On June 29, 2016, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHouse passes bill to expand workplace protections for nursing mothers Democrats look for plan B on filibuster Senate will vote on John Lewis voting bill as soon as next week MORE (R-Alaska) spoke at a panel sponsored by the Arctic Energy Center – a joint initiative of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the Independent Petroleum Association of America – aka Big Oil. Sen. Murkowski said that she was “worried the Obama administration will cut out the two remaining Arctic leases that are now included in its five-year offshore drilling plan in an attempt to appease environmental interests.” Later that week, ads and pro-drilling opinion pieces ran from the oil industry in all of the D.C. congressional publications.

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The following week, Rep. Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungHouse passes bill to expand workplace protections for nursing mothers Alaska tribal groups race to spend COVID-19 relief money WHIP LIST: How House Democrats, Republicans say they'll vote on infrastructure bill MORE (R-Alaska) introduced three bad amendments to the House Interior Department appropriations bill aimed at greasing the skids for more aggressive drilling in our public lands and waters in Alaska. These amendments would:

  • defund the management plan for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge;
  • prohibit funding for the Interior Department to remove the three Alaska leases (two Arctic) in the 5-year plan;
  • prohibit any funds for recent safety and prevention regulations for the Arctic Ocean;

Additionally, Section 127 in the bill would defund the finalization and implementation of the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management’s (BOEM’s) proposed Air Quality Control, Reporting and Compliance Rule –  a rule that would limit air pollution from drilling offshore of the Arctic and in other places around the country. Arctic champion Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) hit back with an amendment to strike this section of the bill and allow BOEM to complete these important updates to its air regulations for the first time in decades.

Protection advocates have struck a nerve — and the message spinning and increased legislative activities by the oil industry and its allies just proves that they are running from behind.  According to The Hill, the oil industry is “… pleading with the Obama administration not to completely take Arctic offshore drilling off the table for the next five years.” What’s more, Big Oil has gone so far to say that Arctic drilling could secure our energy and national security future. Yet there is no mention in the industry’s rhetoric about recent decisions to abandon efforts to drill in the Arctic or the years of setbacks that led to this failure.

Despite the oil industry’s desperate tactics and hyperbole, the facts are clear that our nation needs to address climate change by breaking our addiction to fossil fuels and moving towards cleaner sources of energy. Fossil fuel production is the way of the past, and despite record-high domestic petroleum production, our economy is still held hostage by volatile oil prices set on a global market that is frequently rattled by unexpected events. Arctic oil won’t alter this fundamental equation. And given the risks, proven out by Shell’s failed effort s in the harsh, remote, unpredictable and unforgiving Arctic Ocean, this will never be an oil source we can count on.

The Council on Foreign Relations put out a report years ago that predicted that climate change and, in particular, a melting Arctic would force our hand to break our addiction to fossil fuels in order to once and for all truly ensure our energy and national security. We can’t, however, stand by and make decisions like Norway has and talk out of both sides of our mouth. This past May, Norway and the United States committed to “work towards the highest global standards, best international practices, and a precautionary approach, when considering new and existing commercial activities in the Arctic, including oil and gas operations.” But, only a few days later, Norway awarded new Arctic drilling licenses to 13 oil companies, including areas in the Barents Sea that have become accessible because of climate change.

Alaska is feeling the effects of climate change at twice the rate of anywhere else in our nation. Instead of continuing the cycle of fossil fuel dependence, President Obama should take our country the right way forward by removing Arctic leases from the 5-year plan. Adding drilling in the Arctic will only exacerbate the impacts of climate change on our nation and Alaska. President Obama has committed to addressing climate change, and dropping the leases is the right decision.


Cindy Shogan is the Executive Director of Alaska Wilderness League.