Bye-Bye, Big Oil: Obama Administration Scraps Arctic Drilling Plans

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Bye-Bye, Big Oil: Obama Administration Scraps Arctic Drilling Plans

Campaigners say that the Obama administration is heeding the call of the climate movement—and slowly shifting action to match its rhetoric on global warming

Kayaktivists in Seattle, Washington staged a flotilla to block one of Shell's drilling rigs from reaching its Arctic destination. (Photo: Backbone Campaign/cc/flickr)

Kayaktivists in Seattle, Washington staged a flotilla to block one of Shell's drilling rigs from reaching its Arctic destination. (Photo: Backbone Campaign/cc/flickr)

The Obama administration announced late Friday that it was pulling the plug on new lease sales for drilling in the Arctic's Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, in a move environmentalists are hailing as a decided step to keep unburnable oil "in the ground."

Citing "current market conditions" and "low industry interest," as well as Shell's recent decision to scrap its Arctic drilling plans, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell declared that two offshore lease sales scheduled for 2016 and 2017 would be cancelled. 

However, campaigners said the move was likely the result of the fierce opposition campaign as well as the growing awareness that if the White House has any intention of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions the country must cease new oil exploration and, instead, invest in more renewable energy alternatives.

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"Scientists have long been clear that fully 100% of Arctic oil is unburnable, if we’re serious about averting the worst impacts of climate change. That’s why the climate movement stepped up, and forced even the most irresponsible company on Earth to admit that it wouldn’t make sense to drill in the Arctic," said 350.org executive director May Boeve. "Now, the Obama administration is heeding the call as well—and slowly shifting action to match its rhetoric on climate change."

Boeve said that the Keystone XL pipeline company, Transcanada, as well as the rest of Big Oil should "take this as a very bad sign for their future."

The Interior Department also noted that the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) also denied requests from Shell and Statoil for extensions on their drilling leases, meaning the current lease for drilling in the Beaufort Sea will expire in 2017 and 2020 for the Chukchi Sea.

Miyoko Sakashita with the Center for Biological Diversity hailed the move as a "huge win for Arctic wildlife and our climate."

"Americans have spoken time and again about the perils of Arctic drilling," Sakashita said. "It’s gratifying to see these leases finally cancelled and now it’s time to declare the Arctic off-limits to drilling forever."

Echoing the sentiments of other groups, that want to see the administration follow through with strong decisions against the Keystone XL pipeline and fossil fuel leasing on public lands, Sakashita added: "It can’t stop here though: It’s time to take the next step and pledge to keep this oil in the ground and transition quickly to energy sources that are safer, smarter and better for all of us."

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