Obama Has Effectively Ended Arctic Drilling

Oil and gas companies that have had their eyes on Arctic drilling better start devising some new plans. This past week, the Obama administration made a major policy change to support the environment. For the next few years anyway, Arctic drilling will effectively be off the table.

Previously, the United States scheduled lease sales for drilling rights on the Alaskan coasts for both the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Now, however, the Department of the Interior has decided to cancel those sales, thereby shutting out new drilling interests in the area.

On top of that, the Obama administration has decided to deny requests to extend current leases for drilling in the region. Some companies have sought to maintain a presence around Alaska, but now they will have to vacate the area when their leases expire in the upcoming two to five years.

The move is somewhat surprising coming from Obama. Just six months ago, the president gave permission to Shell to more seriously explore drilling off the Alaskan coast, a move that upset his eco-conscious supporters. However, months later, Shell backed out of the area when they did not find nearly the amount of gas they were hoping to discover in order to make operations there worthwhile.

In a statement, Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, cited Shell’s lack of success as part of the reason for cancelling upcoming lease sales. From a cynical perspective, it makes sense that Obama would take a stand against Arctic drilling (after doing the opposite of that half a year prior) once a major corporation expressed doubts in the viability of drilling in the area. In doing so, Obama scores points with Americans concerned about climate change, while also not ruffling too many feathers with oil giants who have already started showing diminished interest in the Arctic on their own accord.

Though these decisions are big steps, they are still far from a guarantee that the Arctic will be off-limits for drilling indefinitely. Given that the area is thought to hold over 10 percent of the world’s remaining fossil fuel supply, pressure to explore this area may resurface in a few years if the world has not shifted to rely more on forms of renewable energy quickly enough.

Indeed, the inevitable new presidential administration could also revive prospects for drilling in the Arctic. Though most Democratic candidates have stated their opposition to Arctic drilling, Republicans have a different view. In fact, Alaska’s (mainly conservative) politicians have already said they will fight to reverse the White House’s policies on the leases. Earlier this month, the governor of Alaska said he wants to expand drilling in his state in order to pay for the damages climate change is creating. (Yes, that reasoning is as stupid as it sounds.)

Whatever the motivations for blocking Arctic drilling and however short-lived they might prove to be, let’s not overlook the positives. The carbon emissions resulting from Arctic oil and gas would be devastating to the earth’s climate, so any stop in exploration – even if only temporary – is a victory for the environment.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman2 years ago

Jenn C. wrote,

" ... Arctic drilling will not be off the table forever though, nor should it be. Make it safe, that's all. ..."

From what I read, fracking can not be done safely. Perhaps oil drilling can, but the drilling practices do not seem to have been improved to the point of complete safety for at least the past forty years.

Pablo B.
.2 years ago


Jane R.
Jane R2 years ago

I'm glad to hear this. Hope they don't back down.

Ryan Miller
Ryan Miller2 years ago

Make it permantely closed!

Azaima A.
Azaima A2 years ago

I suspect this was an economic decision that got gussied up as environmental concern

Muriel Servaege
Muriel Servaege2 years ago

Great news. Let's pray it's not temporary.

Hamburger Moscovici

Great news, but how long will this reprieve last?

ERIKA S2 years ago

it's great-thank you for sharing

Janis K.
Janis K2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.