Senate Dems press for delay in Arctic drilling

A group of Senate Democrats are pressing Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellOvernight Energy: Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone | UN report offers dire climate warning | Trump expected to lift ethanol restrictions Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone Blind focus on ‘energy dominance’ may cripple Endangered Species Act MORE to delay decisions on new leasing and oil exploration in the Arctic.

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Sens. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDemocratic White House hopefuls push to expand health care in US territories Democratic White House hopefuls push to expand health care in US territories Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment MORE (D-Ore.) and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw The Hill's Morning Report - Trump and House Democrats resume battle MORE (D-Ill.) spearheaded the letter, signed by four other senators, which calls for a temporary halt to Arctic exploration and a thorough evaluation of current drilling regulations.

"The Department of Interior‘s proposals to allow drilling activity in the Arctic Ocean have generated significant controversy and litigation, with opposition from local communities, Members of Congress, scientists, the conservation community, and the American people," the senators wrote in a letter finalized on Friday.

They pointed to the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, which experienced a series of mishaps last year while drilling in the Arctic, including the grounding of a drilling rig and violations of air pollution permits. The administration is weighing whether to let the company resume its exploration activities.

Environmental groups say Shell's new plan to continue exploration in Arctic waters falls short of explaining how it would avoid problems it encountered during the 2012 drilling season.

"The myriad problems faced last year by Shell Oil Company as it attempted to drill exploration wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas demonstrated the unpredictability, harsh conditions, and heightened potential for human error that characterize any industrial activity in the Arctic Ocean," the letter states.

The senators' push is the latest in slew of lawmakers' requests for Interior to pause Arctic oil exploration.

Earlier this month, nearly 60 House Democrats sent Jewell a similar letter asking for a revamp of the department's plans for drilling and permitting.

"Shell’s mishaps, along with the announcements by ConocoPhillips and Statoil that those companies will not pursue exploration drilling in 2014, provide a welcome opportunity for your agency to re-examine whether to allow oil and gas activities in the Arctic and, if so, under what conditions," House Democrats said in the letter.