May 16, 2019

Harris, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Stop Arctic Drilling

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Thursday joined Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), along with 11 of their colleagues, in introducing the Stop Arctic Drilling Act of 2019, legislation to prohibit irresponsible and unacceptable drilling that puts at risk the health of local ecosystems, communities, and the global climate. The bill would prevent any new or renewed leases for the exploration, development, or production of oil, natural gas, or any other mineral in the Arctic Ocean planning area.

“As our country faces a climate crisis that represents an existential threat to our health and wellbeing, it would be downright dangerous to open up the Arctic to drilling,” said Harris. “We must take serious steps to protect this important ecosystem while also working to mitigate the worst effects of climate change—and that starts with preventing irresponsible oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.”

This month, 84 degree temperatures in the Arctic coincided with reports that carbon dioxide has hit its highest level in human history. In order to ensure our children have a livable planet, the United States must transition aggressively and rapidly away from conventional fossil fuels and toward the use of renewable energy.

Arctic drilling operations will open a tremendous, untapped carbon reserve, setting back critical efforts to address climate chaos. Studies have repeatedly shown that we are approaching the end of our carbon budget, and that three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves which includes all the oil and gas reserves in the Arctic must be kept in the ground if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate chaos.

In the interest of mitigating the most dire consequences of climate chaos and protecting the existence of countless endangered species populations, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management removed Arctic leases from its five-year program for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf in 2016. In January 2018, however, the Trump Administration released a new draft proposal to reopen of offshore drilling leases three years ahead of schedule.

The Department of Interior estimates there is a 75 percent chance of a large oil spill exceeding 42,000 gallons of oil should leases in the Arctic be developed, which would threaten to destroy the region’s ecosystem. The Arctic is home to endangered species such as bowhead whales, polar bears, and ringed seals, as well as invaluable and fragile ecosystems that are critical to fisheries, migratory birds, indigenous populations and subsistence hunters.

Treacherous conditions also risk the lives of oil rig workers, who face extreme cold temperatures, rough seas, and extended darkness in the winter months. Shell’s initial venture into the Arctic in 2012 resulted in an abandoned oil rig, a Coast Guard operation to save eights lives, and ended Shell’s Arctic operations after one day. The closest U.S. Coast Guard station to the Arctic, in Kodiak, is more than 900 air miles south of Alaska's North Slope, limiting its ability to respond to a spill and prevent severe damage to ecosystems, communities, and indigenous subsistence hunters.

In addition to Harris and Merkley, the legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Ben Cardin (D-MD).

The full text of the Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act of 2019 is available here.