Revised Drilling Plan Protects Some Areas, Leaves Polar Bears Vulnerable

Obama administration announces revised five-year plan for oil and gas drilling

12-02-2010 // Miles Grant
Polar bear at dusk

The Obama administration has announced a revised five-year plan for oil and gas drilling, reversing course on advancing risky oil drilling off the Atlantic Coast and Florida’s Gulf Coast. But Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also said the administration would move forward with potential leasing in the entire Arctic Ocean, including the Beaufort & Chukchi Seas, leaving critical polar bear habitat at risk.

"Until oil companies prove they can contain and clean up an oil gusher in rough, remote Arctic waters, those areas should not be included in the administration’s next five-year plan and Shell should not be allowed to drill its planned exploratory wells there this summer," said Adam Kolton, the National Wildlife Federation’s Senior Director for Congressional & Federal Affairs.

In March, President Obama had announced plans to open Atlantic Coast, from Delaware to Florida, and the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling. But the Gulf oil disaster revealed oil companies weren’t prepared to deal with a deepwater drilling catastrophe and exposed major flaws in federal drilling oversight.

Oil rig burning

"The Gulf oil disaster made clear that in addition to improving the safety of drilling rigs, we must recognize that some places are too important to risk another oil drilling catastrophe," said Kolton. "The disaster showed the recklessness of separating economic, energy and environmental concerns – the impacts of careless policy in any one area can spread quickly to kill not just wildlife but jobs."

A 2008 National Wildlife Federation analysis (PDF) found opening all of America’s lands and waters to drilling sought by Big Oil would only reduce gas prices by a few cents more than a decade from now, while investment in clean energy would deliver immediate, significant savings in energy costs.

"Some politicians seem intent on allowing drilling anywhere and everywhere regardless of the risk, regardless of the landscape, regardless of whether new safety or environmental measures are in place," said Kolton. "The National Wildlife Federation will continue to work to defeat their efforts."

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