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Senators Call for End to Arctic Drilling Push

Common Dreams staff

Several Democratic senators called on the Interior Department this week to put an end to Arctic drilling plans currently pursued by the Obama administration and big oil companies around the world.

Vying for a halt to future Alaska offshore drilling leases, Senators Richard Durbin of Illinois, Barbara Boxer of California, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, all signed a letter (pdf) addressed to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stating:

Challenges with infrastructure and spill response are unprecedented in the Arctic’s remote, undeveloped region: the Arctic Ocean is characterized by hurricane-force storms, 20-foot swells, sea ice up to 25 feet thick, sub-zero temperatures and months-long darkness. [...]

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.

Attempts to begin exploratory drilling in the region by major oil companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, have been heavily protested throughout the year. Shell went to court last week to ban public protest against the company's Arctic drilling plans, in direct response to actions taken by environmental organization Greenpeace and their Save the Arctic Campaign.

Shell received the second of its two final permits for exploratory drilling last week from the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, but drilling operations have been continuously delayed due to dangerous ice conditions and equipment failures during test runs.

On Wednesday the first of the largest oil giants, Total, came out to officially warn against Arctic drilling.

“Oil on Greenland would be a disaster,” he told the Financial Times in an interview. “A leak would do too much damage to the image of the company.”

The Interior Department has not yet responded to the Senators' letter.

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