Scientists urge Obama to end offshore drilling leases in Arctic

388 scientists sent a letter to President Barack Obama Wednesday, asking for an end to offshore lease sales in the Arctic. The U.S. Department of the Interior is considering leasing areas in the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea for offshore drilling.

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The Beaufort and Chukchi seas in summer 2010 and 2011. Photo courtesy of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in summer 2010 and 2011. (Photo courtesy of Kathryn Hansen, NASA)
The Beaufort and Chukchi seas in summer 2010 and 2011. Photo courtesy of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in summer 2010 and 2011. (Photo courtesy of Kathryn Hansen, NASA)

More than 30 scientists from Alaska signed the letter. Eugénie Euskirchen, an associate research professor at the University of Fairbanks, says most of her colleagues are opposed to the lease sale.

Euskirchen studies the effects of climate change in the Arctic and worries — if drilling occurs — a crisis could follow.

“First of all, it upsets an ecosystem that’s already very fragile,” Euskirchen said. “And second of all, if there’s a disaster or spill or any sort of problem, the oil companies do not seem like they’re very well ready to handle any such problem.”

There hasn’t been a lease sale in Alaska since 2008. Last year, the Department of the Interior canceled the sales in the current lease cycle after Shell decided to halt exploratory drilling, citing disappointing results and lack of industry interest.

Josh Kindred, of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, says even though oil prices are low now, that may change. He thinks getting rid of the lease sale altogether could bar the U.S. from drilling in the Arctic forever.

“You know, at the end of the day, we don’t know where we’re going to be as a nation from an energy standpoint five years from now,” Kindred said. “And so foreclosing this opportunity prematurely — particularly when we’re still afforded that opportunity four or five years from now to simply have BOEM pull those lease sales — seems like poor policy.”

BOEM is the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The bureau’s public comment period for the 2017 to 2020 plans ends Thursday.