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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Researchers: Our Arctic and Atlantic Waters Must Be Protected


The global community came together in Pairs and agreed it must cap temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. And that means transitioning away from fossil fuels.

A number of Republican policitians have taken up the 'drill baby drill' mantra, and President-elect Donald Trump is likely the latest.

Trump declared in his energy plan: “American energy dominance will be declared a strategic economic and foreign policy goal of the United States.” 

That energy dominance will come from increased offshore oil drilling, if a leaked document is any indication. The Center for Democracy and Media obtained a document written by Thomas Pyle, head of the Department of Energy transition team.

In the document, Pyle indicates that increasing federal oil and natural gas leasing is a priority. He wrote that offshore oil will “increase in the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea and the mid and south Atlantic.”

A new report from the Stockholm Environment Institute, prepared in cooperation with the Carbon Tracker Initiative, looks at U.S. offshore oil drilling. It finds that offshore oil drilling in the U.S. Arctic and Atlantic waters is only consistent with a pathway leading to 4 degrees Celsius of warming and not less than 2 degrees Celsius.

And offshore oil drilling in both the Arctic and Atlantic is not needed, they assert, as the U.S. already has “more than enough domestic oil from other sources” to meet all domestic oil production needs consistent with a 2 degrees Celsius pathway.

If the world pursues a 2-degree pathway, U.S. oil production would decrease by at least to 40 to 50 percent below current levels by 2040. New offshore oil is just not neccesary in that scenario, nor is it consistent with a 2-degree pathway.

Meeting that 2-degree cap means limiting carbon to a cumulative carbon budget. Offshore oil projects are costly to not only the environment, but also the economy. They require oil prices of $140 per barrel or more to justify investment. Oil prices are nowhere near that today. And in a 2-degree world, oil demand would be expected to decrease and prices would likely stay low.

A transition away from fossil fuels is needed to avoid “dangerous climate change,” the Stockholm Environment Institute said in its report. But there are questions about what Trump will do when he takes office. He has stated that he will back out of the Paris agreement. Even if he do, “Global action to reduce emissions will continue,” the Institue asserted. In other words, the world will continue to reduce emissions, even if a Trump presidency turns out to be the worst-case scenario for U.S. federal climate policy.

“There’s really no place for Arctic or Atlantic oil drilling in a clean energy future,” Franz Matzner, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Beyond Oil program, said in a briefing about the report.

The Institute's findings come as President Obama is set to decide the fate of America’s oceans, Matzner said, emphasizing: “Protecting our oceans has direct impact on our climate future.”

Last month, Obama announced that the Bureau of Ocean Management would halt drilling leases in U.S. Arctic and Atlantic waters from 2017 to 2022. But the president has clear and established authority to protect the Arctic and Atlantic oceans beyond the five-year plan to protect, and even in perpetuity, Matzner said. 

And he said the science and the public support Obama using that authority to provide permanent protection for our oceans.

The NRDC conducted a telephone survey in September of over 1,000 registered voters about their attitudes on energy policy. It found that 52 percent are very unfavorable to the U.S. government granting leases on public lands and waters to private companies for extracting oil, gas and coal. And 57 percent are unfavorable to the U.S. government considering leases in publicly-owned waters in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans for oil and gas drilling by private companies. 

In other words, the majority of Americans don’t want the Arctic and Atlantic to be destroyed by fossil fuel drilling. And American lawmakers would be wise to consider that. 

Image credit: Flickr/ShoreZone

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman