President Barack Obama defended his recent decision to allow Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Arctic Ocean by saying he was reassured there were “strong safeguards” in place.

Josh Earnest, press secretary of the White House, elaborated more on the Obama administration’s decision as part of the “all-of-the-above approach” at a press briefing on May 12th.

Earnest additionally noted President Obama previously protected the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and even increased investments into renewable energy, all a part of the “all-of-the-above approach.” Thus, he said, allowing Shell to drill was just a part of this strategy:

[W]hat’s also true is the President is committed to ensuring that we are doing as much as we can to protect our energy security, and that means looking for opportunities to safely develop sources of energy on American soil. And I think this—again, this decision reflects the effort to pursue that all-of-the-above approach

Interestingly, however, Shell experienced technical problems last month with its oil rig, which questions why Obama felt confident in Shell’s ability to drill without any doubts.

Moreover, Obama believed, in spite of the problems with fossil fuels, oil and natural gas would need to be used and preferred obtaining it domestically than going overseas.

The decision to allow Shell is very controversial, especially among environmentalists.

In Seattle, for example, the “Shell No!” movement is growing against drilling in the Arctic. Indeed, the Port of Seattle, in a 3-1 decision, voted to ask Shell to delay drilling to begin after public pressure.

For oil and natural gas leaders, Arctic exploration is a necessity in continuing “energy security,” a favorite phrase among them.

The American Petroleum Institute released a press release in February explaining how Arctic exploration would not only be good for the economy, but prevent other nations from being first. Erik Milito, director of upstream for API, noted this as an essential reason to push for Arctic drilling.

The safe and responsible development of oil and natural gas in the Arctic is critical to our economy and national security. We are reviewing these rules to ensure they offer a realistic path for energy production in the Arctic. Failure to develop these resources would put America’s global energy leadership at risk at a time when Russia and other Arctic nations are forging ahead.

In terms of Shell, Shell Oil President Marvin Odum appeared on CNBC on May 14th and explained how, in spite of the low oil prices, it was a long-term investment for the company:

The thing to think about, when you think about exploration in Alaska, is that this is a long-term game. These are potentially very large resources, but resources that would come online 10 to 15 years from now. The current oil price is somewhat irrelevant, [but] the size of the resource is what’s important. The exploration program is identifying how many resources are out there

Yet, the necessity of exploration is inconsistent with the threat of climate change. A study released earlier this year in Nature by Christophe McGlade and Paul Ekins, members of the Institute for Sustainable Resources, found “a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80 percent of current coal reserves” must stay in the ground until 2050 to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2° Celsius.

In the case of the Arctic, they advocated for all fossil fuels to stay in the ground:

We estimate there to be 100 billion barrels of oil (including natural gas liquids) and 35 trillion cubic meters of gas in fields within the Arctic Circle that are not being produced as of 2010. However, none is produced in any region in either of the 2°C scenarios before 2050. These results indicate to us that all Arctic resources should be classified as unburnable.

Despite Obama’s pledge on Earth Day to push reforms to tackle climate change, the latest decision which favors Shell is a mistake that has rightfully infuriated environmentalists, like Bill McKibben.

It is difficult to imagine what the Obama administration may do next in the Arctic, but it is likely they will focus on protecting the “energy security” of the U.S. and may depend on Arctic drilling to do so.

Creative Commons Licensed Photo on Flickr from The Backbone Campaign.

Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan is a freelance journalist in Queens, NY and written for publications such as The Nation, In These Times, Truthout and more.


  1. Shutter
    May 15, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    “President Barack Obama defended his recent decision to allow Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Arctic Ocean…”

    Later the President expanded on his reasoning…

    “Look…ah…we all know… its a tough world out there. Dog eat dog you might say. And.. ah.. a mans gotta think ahead.. ah… I mean… ‘look forward’. So with that in mind, I’m ah… looking forward to a freakin’ suitcase full of greenbacks from Shell.”

  2. fredcdobbs
    May 15, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    Heh, heh. Remember when O-bots were telling us Obama would unveil his true self in his second term. Well, this is an example of it.

  3. bsbafflesbrains
    May 15, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    Politics of profits for Corporatocracy behind these Oil above all decisions. Norway and Russia among others I think making territorial claims to Arctic. Shell is a Dutch company but the multi national uber wealthy shareholders get Obama to allow exploitation of Arctic for benefit of the 1%. Obama has never believed or acted for the people, like McKibbon, who care about the consequences of human caused global warming continuing unabated. If Obama stands for the people he is doing it in opposite World.

  4. jo6pac
    May 15, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    “Russia and
    other Arctic nations are forging ahead”

    With a little help from the
    usual suspects

    It’s just the potus trying to
    raise some cash for his lieberry. Nothing to see here please move along.

  5. Alice X
    May 15, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    It is clear that if we burn all of the reserves that are presently known, we and the planet will be toast.

    The CorporaDem™ wing of the Uniparty is bound and bribed to be just as craven as any.

    The Corporate Dystopia is upon us already.

  6. May 15, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    Bill McKibben, here:

    Brought to You by Wall Street
    The Corporate Money Behind McKibben’s Divestment Tour

    and here:

    Warped by Climate Change
    What Happened to Bill McKibben?


    Time to Give the Democrats the Boot Once and For All
    We Don’t Need Climate Marches, We Need a Political Awakening

    for starters…

  7. mulp
    May 15, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    Obama is doing what We the People want.

    How many members of Congress were elected on the promise to eliminate all oil, gas, and coal burning in the US with a rapidly rising carbon tax that would depend on tax dodging to totally kill all burning of fossil fuels in the US by 2030, and by the way, the carbon tax would not generate any revenue in 2030 so there will be no tax burden on anyone.

  8. AKBob
    May 15, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    No problem. I mean the last time Shell tried to do the right thing they lost their drill rig and it washed up on a Kodiak beach….all to save a few bucks of taxes…Towing in the worst weather of the year with a tug not suited for the job. But hey what could go wrong?

  9. fredcdobbs
    May 15, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    Correction: Obama is doing what his corporate masters want. He couldn’t give a flying fuck about what “We the People” want. All of your other bullshit arguments are your own hallucinations and delusions.Obama and the corrupt, spineless Dim-o-crap leadership have done their best to suppress votes from those inclined to support progressive legislation and to throw Congressional elections to the right wing Republicans by only nominating and supporting Conserva-Dem candidates while shitting all over actual progressive candidates.

  10. mulp
    May 15, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    I assume you have totally eliminated all fossil fuel burning devices from your life?
    No car or truck fueled by fossil fuel? No heating of you house by burning fossil fuels?

    Oil companies do not produce oil and process it to stick storage tanks. The do this to sell to hundreds of millions of Americans who then burn the fossil fuels and cause climate change.

  11. mulp
    May 15, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    How do they have any profits from oil production when no one buys gasoline and heating oil to burn and cause climate change?

  12. mulp
    May 15, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    Yeah, McKibben is calling for selling stock and blocking one pipeline and one drilling rig so he does not need to give up his gas guzzling car and walk, and sit in his house freezing by not burning fossil fuels.

    Symbolism on the part of those protesting the oil and coal companies.

  13. mulp
    May 15, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    Stop bitching about the past and on how the oil companies are making bad investments!

    Focus on how you force them into bankruptcy!

    Focus on the thousands of elections coming up in the next 8 years and how you will make sure that the only Republican who wins is a progressive who will vote for a rapidly rising carbon tax on burning fossil fuels which will drive tax dodgers to replace every aspect of the US economy with non-fossil fuel assets, resulting in the oil and coal industries going bankrupt. Thousands of elections ahead, with the most important being the Republican primaries.

  14. Chris Maukonen
    May 15, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    Good luck with that.

    What are you going to do about those well to do republicans and democrats that are making out like bandits under the current situation and have no intention of it changing.

  15. Alice X
    May 15, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    My 17 year old car has 85k miles on, 5k miles a year, it gets 40 mpg.

    My house has R46 in the attic, when I had it done that was the rating recommended for Nome Alaska, I am near Detroit.

    My furnace is 96% efficient, in the winter I close off half of my 1k sq ft house and keep the thermostat at a max of 63° F. That is not at all comfortable for me age 65° so I dress warmly. At night I dial it down to 58° and have seven thick blankets.

    I walk a lot, I take the bus when I can. I never fly. Even though I have them I don’t use any power lawn tools. Yesterday I cut down an eight inch diameter tree with a hand saw, I had to do it in three sessions. That was difficult. Today I cut part of my lawn with my push mower.

    Those are some of my particulars. It is as good as I can do for now.

    And you?

  16. John Smith
    May 15, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    I remember when Bush wanted to drill in the Arctic. Obama did what Bush wanted. This is really outrageous. Something will definitely go wrong. There will be a spill and its going to be held over Obama’s head whether he’s in office or not. This just stupid no matter how you look at it. They wouldn’t even be thinking about drilling in that area if it weren’t for climate change and the Arctic losing more and more of it’s ice. The Gulf of Mexico is already ruined and probably beyond repair and now he also wants to open the Atlantic to drilling. Good bye Miami beach, Myrtle Beach, Ocean City.

  17. May 15, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    If you read at the links it’s far worse…

  18. andrew123456789
    May 15, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    This president put on the show that he was intelligent. No. He’s an idiot and obviously doesn’t care about the world his kids will have to be adults in.

  19. May 15, 2015 at 9:36 pm

    Wow. First the strategic leaks against Hillary. TPP and now this.Obama the TrojanHorse President, doing his damnedest to destroy the Democratic Party

  20. May 15, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    He’s gonna have a foundation to milk too

  21. May 15, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    Rolling Stone had an article a few years back on this. If the BP Horizon blowout were to happen in the Arctic, it would be impossible to get crews in to to ever shut it off

    Obama’s sham environmental policy:.Oil of the Above

    Where is the left? Cue chirping crickets

  22. mulp
    May 16, 2015 at 12:36 am

    Obama is paying for the gasoline you and a few hundred million Americans buy to pollute the air and drive climate change???

    You do know that the gasoline you put in your car to burn is a fossil fuel that comes from corporations like Shell that drill off shore or drill and frack around drinking water aquifers, don’t you?

    If no one buys oil or gas to burn, then no corporations will drill anywhere for oil and gas. There is no safe place to drill for oil and gas, just very bad places and worse places.

  23. jane24
    May 16, 2015 at 12:53 am

    In simple terms this comes down to two things: Greed and stupidity. The Bill McKibben article, though brief, is imo well worth reading. Thanks, Brandon, for posting on this.

  24. Robert Hooper
    May 16, 2015 at 4:04 am

    As a loyal Bilderberger, how was Obama SUPPOSED to have voted?