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Proposed offshore oil and gas program stops Atlantic Coast drilling, but leaves Gulf communities and pristine Arctic vulnerable

Posted Mar. 15, 2016 / Posted by: Kate Colwell

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Obama administration released a proposed 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The proposal protects the Atlantic Ocean, but leaves the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico vulnerable to oil and gas drilling. Just last week, the Obama administration jointly pledged with Canada that “commercial activities will occur only when the highest safety and environmental standards are met, including national and global climate and environmental goals," which include moving the Nation as rapidly as possible away from fossil fuels.

And at the State of the Union Address, President Obama acknowledged this imperative:

“Now we've got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources. Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future, especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.”

In the coming weeks, there will be hearings on the revised draft around the country, offering the public a chance to testify on the proposal. The final plan—expected by December 2016—presents a crucial opportunity for the Obama administration to continue its efforts to protect our coasts, our communities, and our climate by leaving these fossil fuels safely under the sea.

We call on President Obama to take the next step by:

(1)    directing Secretary Jewell not to authorize any new offshore leasing in this program;

(2)    permanently protect the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans from any future oil and gas exploration; and,

(3)    propose and enact a plan to transition Gulf communities to a sustainable, renewable energy economy.

Group quotes:

Faith Gemmill of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL) said:

"Alaska’s Indigenous peoples are already living with unsustainable fossil fuel extraction, and dealing, with the resulting negative cumulative impacts, such as loss of our subsistence resources, detrimental impacts to human and ecological health which is compounded by climate change.  Further pursuits into pristine ecosystems that Alaska Native peoples depend on for subsistence such as the Arctic Ocean would perpetuate the long lasting devastating consequences of the fossil fuel energy economy and climate chaos in Alaska.  We strongly urge the administration to implement a clean renewable energy economy now that would respect and uphold Indigenous peoples subsistence rights, but also address the current climate crisis.”

Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN)

"Even with Atlantic exemptions, President Obama's off-shore leasing plan remains a vibrant contradiction to all things that are supposed to mitigate climate change," states Dallas Goldtooth, Keep It In The Ground Campaign Organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network. "We cannot hope to see a Just Transition towards a renewable energy future, without a complete rejection of the dirty energy of the past. This plan is an affront to the lives of those Indigenous coastal communities of Alaska and the Gulf Coast, who are already carrying the brunt of our carbon addiction as quintessential sacrifice zones. For the benefit of Mother Earth and our future generations, we must Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground. The President must take the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico off the oil and gas chopping block."

Anne Rolfes, Founding Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said:

"After all the destruction in the Gulf of Mexico, no one in their right mind should open the Atlantic or Arctic coasts for drilling. Here in the Gulf Coast we are rallying next week to urge just the opposite path. We will make history to say, for the first time ever, that we no longer want Big Oil ramming drillbits into our ocean floor.  If the President really does consider climate change a threat, then this oil simply cannot be burned. We've got to keep it in the ground."

The Reverend Dr. Jennifer E. Copeland, Executive Director of the North Carolina Council of Churches, said:

"As a faith based organization we are called by God to preserve and respect the earth. As Governing Board members of the NC Council of Churches, we represent hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians as we take a moral stand against opening North Carolina’s coast to offshore oil and gas drilling."

David Helvarg, Executive Director of Blue Frontier, said:

"Expanded offshore oil leasing is the new Keystone Pipeline, an idea whose time has passed.  When science is telling us we need to leave known reserves of fossil fuels in the ground and under the seabed if we're to avoid catastrophic (as opposed to already dangerous) climate disruption this latest draft plan makes no sense.  It’s time to end drilling and spilling and move on to job-generating clean energy.  Besides, no wind spill ever destroyed a beach or a bayou."

Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska said:

“Selling our oceans to Big Oil while American taxpayers then pick up the tab for the climate destruction they leave behind can only end if Pres. Obama protects our water. If we are serious about climate change, we will end all new drilling in our oceans.”

Colette Pinchon Battle, Esq., Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, said:

"Communities in the Gulf Coast cannot continue to be sacrificed so that the world's wealthiest industry can make more profits. We need our leaders to have the courage to envision a renewable energy future that values the land and the people who make the Gulf South so unique."

Waterkeeper Alliance

“We are pleased that President Obama responded to concerns of businesses and residents of the East Coast by removing most of the Atlantic Ocean from the areas open to offshore drilling. However, we are disappointed that the five-year plan still allows drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Ocean. Notably, the release of BOEM’s plan also coincides with oil company Taylor Energy’s argument that it should not be required to stop the decade-old flow from its leaking oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico. How can President Obama allow more oil and gas drilling when we still have a massive ongoing oil spill that the government won’t force industry to fix? It is time for the federal government to take decisive action and stop all offshore oil drilling," says Marc Yaggi, Executive Director of Waterkeeper Alliance.

Michael Stocker, Director of Ocean Conservation Research, said:

“What is not commonly understood is that these leases will open up our oceans to new deepwater extraction and production technologies, building industrial oil refineries on the sea floor that will introduce all of the extreme noise and chemical pollution of any terrestrial oil refinery – but all hidden beneath the waves.”

Environmental Investigation Agency

"Opening new leases in federal waters to oil and gas places our coasts and the habitats of iconic species like the beluga whale at risk of an oil spill", said Danielle Grabiel, Senior Policy Analyst for the Environmental Investigation Agency, "the President should use this opportunity to chart a new course away from fossil fuel dependence"

Oil Change International

“The plan released today represents a big win for the communities along the Atlantic coast that have stood up against drilling off their shores. However, the continued sacrifice of the Gulf to the whims of Big Oil and opening up of any new drilling in the Arctic flies in the face of the best available science and the President’s own promises, made just last week alongside the Canadian government, to protect communities and the climate. If the President is serious about his climate legacy, he needs to apply a climate test to all offshore drilling. When he does, he’ll see that offshore fossil fuels fail the climate test.” - David Turnbull, Campaigns Director, Oil Change International

The Ocean Foundation

"The President has done the right thing by protecting the clean-coast economies of America's beloved Atlantic beachfront communities, but we know that Arctic oilspills can't be cleaned up and that well-documented safety issues on rigs in the Gulf continue to risk another disaster there, so it's time for equal protection to be applied throughout America's oceans," said Richard Charter, Senior Fellow with The Ocean Foundation.

Rhea Suh, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said:

“By dropping the Atlantic from oil and gas leasing, the administration is standing up to Big Oil and protecting our coastal communities that rightly fear a BP-style disaster. Next, the president should finish the job, honor his historic climate agenda, and protect future generations by using his authority to permanently end the threat of drilling in the Atlantic and the Arctic.”

Gene Karpinski, President of the League of Conservation Voters, said:

“This plan is a huge win for everyone who treasures the east coast’s beaches. We applaud the Obama administration for listening to the voices of Atlantic coast communities, businesses, and elected officials, who have stood up in opposition to risky offshore drilling because it’s a dirty and dangerous business that threatens our beaches, our communities and our climate.  We also appreciate that areas of the pristine, fragile and remote Arctic Ocean are being considered for protection and hope that this proposal results in Arctic drilling being taken off the table for good.  Our public lands and waters, such as these oceans, should be managed in the public’s best interest, which means not issuing permits to drill and burn oil that will make climate change worse and divert our focus away from our transition to clean energy.  We urge President Obama to seize this opportunity to expand his climate leadership by continuing to build on the progress made in this draft and permanently protecting the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans from drilling and by charting a course for Gulf communities to move toward 100 percent clean energy.”

Alaska Wilderness League

“While we are disappointed that Arctic leases are still in the 5-year plan, we appreciate that the administration is taking places off the table, like the Atlantic, and allowing for additional protections in the Arctic Ocean. This proposed plan sets the stage for essential protections in the Arctic Ocean. However, in order to stay in line with the Obama administration’s recent agreement with Canada and the climate goals set out in Paris, Arctic leases must be taken out of the final 5-year plan. Opening the ocean to development would take us in the wrong direction on protecting the Arctic and our climate. Now is the time for the president to take the Arctic off the table and continue his Arctic legacy,” said Cindy Shogan, Executive Director, Alaska Wilderness League

Sierra Club

“We applaud the Obama administration for listening to the tens of thousands of citizens up and down the East Coast and protecting the Atlantic Ocean, safeguarding its beaches and coastal economies," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “After leading the world into a historic climate agreement in Paris and a pact with Canada to protect the Arctic just last week, we hope that the administration will continue its efforts and remove the Arctic Ocean and block new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico."

Center for Biological Diversity

"Offshore drilling endangers whales, polar bears and coastal communities. It's time to end this risky practice and keep fossil fuels in the ground. Obama should live up to his climate rhetoric and ban new oil and gas drilling in all of our oceans," said Miyoko Sakashita, ocean program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Environment America

“This is incredible news for our beaches, for our family vacations, for whales and sea turtles. We applaud the president for protecting our Atlantic beaches and coastal way of life. And to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, we must keep the vast majority of oil, coal, and gas beneath the sea and in the ground. That’s why we urge the president to meet the Paris climate accord and his new agreement with Canada, and also reject all new drilling in the Arctic and the Gulf.” said Margie Alt, Environment America executive director.

Annie Leonard, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA, said:

“Today, President Obama has put the Atlantic Ocean out of the oil industry's reach, and that’s a victory for the coastal communities and our climate. It is time for the President to do the same for the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico, to protect the millions of people around the world who have demanded he stop opening up new lands to offshore drilling.

“Less than a week after committing to protect the Arctic with Prime Minister Trudeau, President Obama has left the door open for Shell and the rest of the oil industry to drill in the region. This decision doesn’t balance conservation and energy, it fuels climate chaos. President Obama must place the whole Arctic off limits. This program isn’t yet final, the President must use the time he has to take all new offshore drilling out of circulation.”

Marissa Knodel, Climate Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:

“The 2017-2022 offshore drilling plan presents President Obama with a major opportunity to solidify his climate legacy by keeping offshore oil and gas in the ground. By using his authority to protect our climate and public waters from being turned into energy sacrifice zones, he is sending a strong message to Fossil Fuel Empires: their reign is over, and the time for a just transition to a clean energy economy has arrived.”

May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org:

“This fight will only intensify in the months ahead,” said Boeve. “Public pressure forced the administration to reverse course on Atlantic drilling, and it can push them back from the Arctic and Gulf. We will continue to make the case that any new drilling is a stain on the President’s climate legacy and incompatible with the goals he committed to at the climate talks in Paris. Real climate leaders keep fossil fuels in the ground and under the sea.”


“We applaud the Obama administration for rightly excluding oil drilling from the Atlantic Ocean and recognizing that offshore drilling in sensitive and irreplaceable areas like the Atlantic is a thing of the past.  It cannot be done safely, and it is incompatible with the President’s historic commitments to tackle climate change.  But the proposed plan does not extend this logic to the Arctic Ocean, the place most dramatically affected by climate change, and instead leaves it open to drilling.  The Administration should take this opportunity to safeguard the Arctic Ocean as well—and further President Obama’s climate legacy—by excluding it from the five-year plan.  And, to ensure this protection stands,  the President should use his authority to put the Arctic and Atlantic permanently off limits to drilling.”– Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen



Faith Gemmill, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), redoilone@gmail.com

Dallas Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network, 708-515-6158, dallas@ienearth.org

Anne Rolfes, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, 504-452-4909, anne@labucketbrigade.org

Aleta Payne, North Carolina Council of Churches, 919-828-6501, aleta@ncchurches.org

David Helvarg, Blue Frontier helvarg@bluefront.org

Jane Kleeb, Bold Nebraska, 402-705-3622, jane@boldnebraska.org

Colette Pinchon Battle, Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, 985-643-6186, collette@gcclp.org

Tina Posterli, Waterkeeper Alliance, 212-747-0622, tposterli@waterkeeper.org

Michael Stocker, Ocean Conservation Research, 414-464-7220, mstocker@OCR.org

Maggie Dewane, Environmental Investigation Agency, mdewane@eia-global.org

David Turnbull, Oil Change International, 202-316-3499, david@priceofoil.org

Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202-513-6263, ahawke@nrdc.org

Seth Stein, League of Conservation Voters, 202-454-4573, seth_stein@lcv.org

Gwen Dobbs, Alaska Wilderness League, 202-266-0418, gwen@alaskawild.org

Jonothan Berman, Sierra Club, 202-495-3033, Jonathon.berman@sierraclub.org

Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, 510-845-6703, miyoko@biologicaldiversity.org

Rodrigo Estrada, Greenpeace USA, 202-478-6632, rodrigo.estrada@greenpeace.org

Marissa Knodel, Friends of the Earth, 202-222-0729, mknodel@foe.org

Lindsay Meiman, 350.org, 347-460-9082, lindsay@350.org

Rebecca Bowe, Earthjustice, 415-217-2093, rbowe@earthjustice.org

Rachel Richardson, Environment America, 971-570-1161, rachel@environmentamerica.org



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