The Obama administration's current offshore leasing plan will open vast areas of pristine ocean waters to risky drilling. Ramping up offshore drilling raises the risk of disastrous spills, puts wildlife in harm's way and deepens U.S. dependence on the fossil fuels that are driving the global climate crisis. Oil burned from the current planned Arctic lease sales alone could result in 10 times the greenhouse gas pollution that would've resulted from the controversial Keystone XL project.

Obama's offshore oil plan is a massive giveaway of public resources to oil companies. While wildlife bears the risks, oil companies garner the profits. What society needs is a shift away from dirty fossil fuels. We need to demand no drilling in the Arctic, no expanded drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, no seismic testing in the Atlantic and a phaseout of oil and gas development in general — meaning a corresponding shift to clean energy.

The 2017–2022 Plan

Offshore oil and gas exploration areas in 2017-2022 plan
Offshore oil and gas exploration areas in 2017-2022 plan. Map by Kara Clauser, Center for Biological Diversity.

The Obama administration's proposed plan will expand offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and offer additional lease sales in sensitive waters off Alaska. The new five-year plan schedules 13 lease sales in six planning areas between 2017 and 2022: Ten sales in the Gulf of Mexico, and three off the coast of Alaska. The Obama administration had originally proposed to open up the Atlantic to new drilling, but that idea was shelved after East Coast residents rose up to oppose it. And President Obama is using executive action to put some of the most sensitive areas in the Arctic's Beaufort and Chukchi seas off limits, which is a step in the right direction. However, all new leasing should be halted in the Arctic where an oil spill in remote areas would be impossible to clean up, and the Gulf of Mexico, which has been treated as a sacrifice zone for far too long. The plan encourages further reliance on oil and threatens species already in danger because of climate change.

Wildlife at risk

Offshore drilling is inherently risky, endangering whales, sea turtles, polar bears and fisheries with threats ranging from ocean noise to oil spills. The proposed lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska will degrade those areas' sensitive marine ecosystems.

With the Gulf still reeling from the BP oil spill, wildlife should not be forced to withstand even more drilling — especially when there are already nearly 4,000 oil and gas projects underway in the Gulf of Mexico. Sea turtles, dolphins and fish are still washing up injured or dead in the Gulf. While the science is still out on the extent of the damage from the oil spill, it's certain that the Gulf has suffered enough, and new areas should not be open for oil drilling.

As for drilling in the Arctic, it can't be made safe, and the lease sales off Alaska are especially worrying because vulnerable polar bears and ice seals call those waters home. The Coast Guard itself admits it's totally unprepared for an oil spill in those remote, frozen Arctic waters. Alaska's wildlife has already been feeling the stresses of global warming, and it shouldn't be subjected to oil-drilling disasters waiting to happen.

Pacific walruse photo courtesy Flickr/Sarah Sonsthagen, USFWS