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Feds Block Offshore Arctic Drilling, Allow New Oil and Gas Leases in Gulf

Step Forward, But Five-Year Plan Fails to Safeguard Against Trump-fueled Climate Change


A new offshore oil and gas plan from the U.S. Department of the Interior blocks two drilling leases in the Arctic, but allows a new lease in Alaska’s Cook Inlet and 10 new leases in the Gulf of Mexico over the next five years – a step that will worsen climate change by ensuring significant greenhouse gas pollution for the next 70 years.

“The plan is bittersweet. We’re so happy to see the Obama administration protecting the Arctic but discouraged to see the door open for more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We can’t keep treating the Gulf like a sacrifice zone. With expanded oil drilling looming on the horizon, we need bold action on climate change now.”

With President-elect Donald Trump pledging to expand offshore drilling, a coalition of environmental groups called on President Obama to permanently protect federal waters from expanded oil leasing. Using his executive power under Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to withdraw areas from leasing, the president could permanently protect our climate, coastal communities, and endangered wildlife.

“Today’s decision is a victory for the Arctic and demonstrates the growing strength of the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground. But we also need to protect communities along the Gulf of Mexico,” said Marissa Knodel with Friends of the Earth. “Unfortunately, Donald Trump has made it clear that he wants to return to the days of ‘drill baby drill.’ That’s why President Obama must use his remaining days in office to permanently keep as much of our lands and waters from Trump and his oil cronies as possible.”

Leading climate scientists say atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations should be reduced to 350 parts per million to avoid catastrophic, irreversible impacts. To reach this goal, the vast majority of fossil fuels must stay in the ground. Unleased federal waters contain an estimated 75 billion barrels of crude oil, more than twice that of unleased federal lands. Stopping new leases in federal waters would keep 61.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere and oceans.

“Break out the champagne for the Arctic victory. Those of us in the Gulf of Mexico are proud and inspired by our friends and colleagues who have worked so hard,” said Anne Rolfes with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “But the victory isn’t quite complete. We need to stop drilling in our Gulf of Mexico, too. We simply cannot burn this oil and stay alive on this planet.”

The proposed plan released earlier this year included two Arctic leases, one each in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, both of which were removed from the final plan. Cook Inlet remains in the final plan, with a lease sale scheduled in 2021, even though Alaska is on the front lines of climate change and warming at twice the global average rate. Under the final plan, there will be roughly two lease sales per year in the Gulf from 2017 to 2022, each of which will offer all available unleased waters in the Gulf.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


Kristen Monsell, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7137
Marissa Knodel, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0729,
Anne Rolfes, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, (504) 452-4909,