IQALUIT, Nunavut (Canada)— As the United States assumes the chairmanship of the multi-nation Arctic Council this week, the Obama administration has an unprecedented opportunity to end dangerous oil drilling in the rapidly melting Arctic and establish a meaningful framework for long-term protection of the Arctic Ocean and its incredible array of wildlife. Despite U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s desire to prioritize global warming and ocean conservation on the Arctic Council’s agenda, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell continues to condone Arctic drilling, most recently through her approval of the Chukchi Sea leases where Shell intends to drill this summer.
“While we appreciate Obama’s modest moves to put some of the Arctic temporarily off limits to oil drilling, the reality is that his administration continues to foolishly move ahead with highly dangerous oil leases in the Arctic,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We shouldn’t be drilling in such a sensitive and important ecosystem just to pad the profits of the oil industry.”
The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum that addresses environmental protection and sustainable development in the Arctic region. It includes eight founding members — the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden — as well as indigenous group partnerships and other nation-state and non-governmental observers.
“Despite industry and government assurances to the contrary, the extreme conditions of Arctic drilling all but guarantee oil spills and chronic degradation. And the billions of tons of carbon produced from the Arctic Ocean will ultimately wind up in the global atmosphere, further accelerating the climatic warming that is so disastrous for the Arctic,” said Richard Steiner, a marine conservation biologist who was a professor at the University of Alaska for 30 years.
Environmental and citizen groups are also pushing President Obama to use his executive authority to establish permanently protected marine national monuments in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, the Bering Strait and the Arctic Ocean, which could catalyze negotiations for a much-needed international sanctuary around the North Pole.
“Obama and Secretary Kerry have a chance to make history with permanent protection for the Arctic,” Snape said. “But you can’t allow drilling and still say it’s protected — it just doesn’t work that way.”
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