Obama Defends Decision Allowing Shell to Drill for Oil in the Arctic

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.

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