Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 15, 2016

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, (510) 844-7108,

Obama Plan Protects Atlantic Ocean But Opens Arctic, Gulf of Mexico to More Offshore Drilling

Five-year Plan Continues to Sacrifice Climate, Wildlife for Industry Profit

WASHINGTON— The Obama administration today announced plans to prohibit new oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean but offer new lease sales in sensitive Arctic waters off Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico, which is still suffering the effects of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe nearly six years later. Ramping up offshore drilling risks more disastrous spills, puts wildlife in harm’s way, and deepens U.S. dependence on the fossil fuels driving the global climate crisis.

“We’re thrilled that whales, dolphins and coastal communities will be protected from the dangers of drilling in the Atlantic, but prohibiting new leases off the East Coast isn’t enough,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “President Obama needs to follow his own climate rhetoric and stop allowing new oil and gas drilling in all of our oceans.” 

The new five-year proposed plan, which follows a draft plan released in January 2015, schedules 13 offshore oil and gas lease sales in six planning areas from 2017 to 2022. Under the revised plan, there would be 10 sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three off the coast of Alaska. The Obama administration’s proposal would take new drilling in the Atlantic off the table, where development has so far been off limits. But new leasing should also be halted in the Arctic, where an oil spill in remote areas would be impossible to clean up, and in 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 wildlife already in danger because of climate change, including polar bears and walruses.

The Obama plan represents a long-term commitment to offshore oil drilling at a time when experts are sounding the alarm on further fossil fuel development. Leading climate scientists say atmospheric CO2 concentrations should be reduced to 350 parts per million to avoid catastrophic, irreversible impacts. And in order to reach this goal the vast majority of fossil fuels must stay in the ground.

Arctic Ocean oil and gas pose a major climate threat. Producing and burning projected technically recoverable oil and gas reserves in the Arctic Ocean has the potential to release 15.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s equivalent to the emissions from all forms of transportation in the United States over a nine-year period.

“Selling off parts of the Arctic and the Gulf to oil companies takes us in exactly the wrong direction when it comes to solving the climate crisis and protecting marine life from toxic spills,” said Sakashita. “President Obama needs to keep offshore oil in the ground to meet his climate promises, and that means ending, not expanding, offshore oil and gas leases.”

The proposed plan will be open for a 90-day comment period before the plan is finalized at the end of this year.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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