As part of the Friday night news dump, the Obama administration did a complete about face on the subject of Arctic oil exploration. After years of supporting research and efforts to keep our options open for future energy development, Interior Department boss Sally Jewell sent out word that extensions or expansion of permits for drilling off of Alaska’s coast would essentially be extinguished. (Seattle Times)
The Interior Department announced Friday it is canceling future lease sales and will not extend current leases in Arctic waters off Alaska’s northern coast, a decision that significantly reduces the chances for future Arctic offshore drilling.
The news follows a Sept. 28 announcement by Royal Dutch Shell that it would cease exploration in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas after spending upward of $7 billion on Arctic exploration. The company cited disappointing results from a well drilled in the Chukchi and the unpredictable federal regulatory environment.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the federal government is canceling federal petroleum lease sales in U.S. Arctic waters that were scheduled for 2016 and 2017.
This disingenuous move was beyond the pale, even for the Obama administration. Compounding the error was Jewell’s “explanation” for why this move makes sense. She decided to blame the results of a single exploratory well drilled by Shell.
“In light of Shell’s announcement, the amount of acreage already under lease and current market conditions, it does not make sense to prepare for lease sales in the Arctic in the next year and a half,” she said.
Anyone who has followed our coverage of the Arctic drilling exploration work engaged in by Royal Dutch Shell already knows the details of the story. The company has a lease for certain sections of seabed where they’ve begun looking for the vast oil reserves which are essentially proven to exist up there. They had already asked for those leases to be extended and for the option of additional leases to come as resources are identified. The lack of significant reserves found at the first Chukchi sea drilling site didn’t mean in any way that the oil isn’t there. The science on this front is difficult since you’re trying to determine what lies below miles of sea water and the Earth’s crust in an area frequently covered in thick ice and wracked with dangerous storms.
For Jewell to turn around now and say that one mostly dry well is a reason to cancel all future leases is laughable. If we give the Polar Pioneer a few more cracks at this it’s going to produce results. But none of this is really about science, is it? As with everything else in the White House, this is all about the politics. The Democrats are once again running on an anti-energy platform going into the 2016 elections and Obama’s previously reasonable stance on exploration was an ongoing embarrassment to them when they were asking their green energy, environmental extremist supporters for campaign donations. They also wouldn’t want to put Hillary in the awkward position of having to slam her former boss on yet another subject as she seeks to replace him.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, the ones paying the price for these political games will be the people paying for gas at the pump or writing checks for their utility bills when we finally tap out on our domestic supplies in the lower 48. By then somebody else with a less squeamish and politically motivated leader will probably have staked out all the Arctic drilling fields for themselves. And that returns us to the one fact which these green warriors never seem to be able to grasp: there is oil up there. Somebody is going to drill for it and somebody is going to burn it. And they probably won’t have anywhere near the level of environmental safeguards in place that we do.