Can 60 members of Congress and 400,000 U.S. citizens stop Arctic drilling?

We’re about to find out if a rising tide of expressed concern alone can win over Obama

No 406 Posted by fw, February 9, 2012

“As the Obama Administration moves to open up Arctic waters for exploratory offshore oil and gas drilling, a rising tide of opposition is emerging to counter the decision. In the last two weeks, dozens of members of Congress, hundreds of scientists, and tens of thousands of concerned citizens have expressed their concerns about the environmental impact of drilling in Arctic waters.”Stephen Lacey

So writes Lacey in his article, 60 Members of Congress and Nearly 400,000 American Citizens Urge Obama to Halt Arctic Offshore Drilling, which appeared in Joe Romm’s Climate Progress, February 8, 2012. His short piece, reposted below, cites concerns and evidence raised by 60 federal lawmakers, 573 scientists, the submission of public comments from upwards of 400,000 citizens, and references to three studies related to potential environmental risks.

But will this flood of signatures be sufficient to win over Obama, who appears to be set to approve exploratory Arctic drilling permits to Royal Dutch Shell for operations next summer?

Tis devoutly to be wished. But over a million signatures on a petition to Obama and other national leaders at COP15 in Copenhagen failed to impel them to take decisive action on climate change. Why should this similar public plea to stop Arctic drilling be any more successful?

Prominent activists appear to be increasingly aware that words, while necessary contributions to a campaign’s Idea Counterpower, are, alone, insufficient to effectively counter government and corporate power:

“So unfortunately we seem to be stuck between having to recognize that new information isn’t the way to get people to move, and having to be very uncomfortable about waiting for change to be so dramatic that they’re forced to move.”William Rees, We need a mass social movement but time is not on our side

“Idea Counterpower means so much more than simply talking to people. Yet too often, campaigns use only the most pedestrian tactics.”Tim Gee, How Idea Counterpower helps movements win

“The campaign against Keystone XL was not, after all, a traditional political lobbying effort or online petition drive, but something much more in the spirit of Dr. King’s tactics of ‘creative nonviolence.’” —Jamie Henn, Yes Magazine’s review of a brilliant, grassroots, multi-faceted campaign to stop Keystone XL

In this context, it will be interesting to see if this most recent rising tide of expressed public concern over offshore Arctic drilling will have sufficient power to reverse the rising tide of BIG OIL’s seemingly relentless ambition to exploit the Arctic’s oil riches.

As promised, here’s a reposting of Stephen Lacey’s article –

60 Members of Congress and Nearly 400,000 American Citizens Urge Obama to Halt Arctic Offshore Drilling,

Stephen Lacey

As the Obama Administration moves to open up Arctic waters for exploratory offshore oil and gas drilling, a rising tide of opposition is emerging to counter the decision.

In the last two weeks, dozens of members of Congress, hundreds of scientists, and tens of thousands of concerned citizens have expressed their concerns about the environmental impact of drilling in Arctic waters.

In an open letter signed yesterday by 60 members of Congress (PDF download), federal lawmakers called on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to halt all leases for the Arctic in the agency’s five-year plan until a more sound review of disaster-response capabilities can be conducted:

“Successful oil spill response methods … cannot simply be transferred to the Arctic. The Arctic is a unique environment with significant hurdles that the DOI and related agencies must genuinely address before considering any new leasing in the region prior to including Arctic areas in a five-year plan.”

This follows a months-long investigation into disaster preparation in the Arctic by the Center for American Progress oceans team, which found a complete lack of infrastructure to deal with an oil spill:

There are no U.S. Coast Guard stations north of the Arctic Circle, and we currently operate just one functional icebreaking vessel. Alaska’s tiny ports and airports are incapable of supporting an extensive and sustained airlift effort. The region even lacks such basics as paved roads and railroads. This dearth of infrastructure would severely hamper the ability to transport the supplies and personnel required for any large-scale emergency response effort. Furthermore, the extreme and unpredictable weather conditions complicate transportation, preparedness, and cleanup of spilled oil to an even greater degree.

Just two weeks before, 573 scientists sent a letter to the White House urging the Obama Administration to take a science-based approach to issuing leases in the Arctic and to avoid opening up the region because of political pressure to expand drilling:

“Doing so prior to authorizing new oil and gas activity in the Arctic Ocean will respect the national significance of the environment and cultures of U.S. Arctic waters and demonstrate the value that your Administration places on having a sound scientific basis for managing industrial development of the Outer Continental Shelf.”

If one were to follow these concerns about taking a science-based approach to their logical conclusion, it’s highly unlikely that anyone would consider drilling for more fossil fuels in the Arctic. In its environmental impact statement (PDF download), the Department of Interior even admits that “the Arctic is experiencing variations that are accelerating faster than previously realized” due to climate change — ironically making the region more attractive for oil and gas extraction as sea ice continues its downward spiral.

Apparently, the plan isn’t sitting well with many interested citizens either. Today was the final deadline for public comments, and almost 400,000 people have asked President Obama to stop the sales of leases in the Department of Interior’s five-year plan, according to the Alaska Wilderness League.

The Obama Administration is set to approve exploratory Arctic drilling permits to Royal Dutch Shell for operations next summer — a company that recently spilled 218 tons of oil in the North Sea and has the worst spill record in the UK since 2000.

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