This year has seen the rise and fall of Shell Oil's plan to begin offshore Arcitc drilling in Alaskan waters. Now, the Interior Department has announced the cancellation of two pending Arctic offshore lease sales that were scheduled under the current five-year offshore leasing program for 2012-2017—Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 237 and Beaufort Sea Lease Sale 242. Additionally, the Department announced denial or requests from Shell and Statoil for extensions that would have allowed for retention of their leases beyond their primary terms of 10 years. DoI stated that "the companies did not demonstrate a reasonable schedule of work for exploration and development under the leases, a regulatory requirement necessary for BSEE [Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement] to grant a suspension." But in justifying the decisions, Secretary Sally Jewell openly stated that in light of "current market conditions, it does not make sense to prepare for lease sales in the Arctic in the next year and a half." (Alaska Native News, Oct. 16) This amounts to a virtual admission that the idea here is "banking" the oil under the sea, until currently depressed prices start to rise again.
Ironically, the announcement comes as Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is lobbying the White House to open parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling. And, perversely, he is actually plugging this as a means of funding mitigation efforts made necessary in the state by climate change! He especially cited the coastal village of Kivalina, which needs to be relocated. "We are in a significant fiscal challenge," Walker told reporters on a trip to Washington DC. "We have villages that are washing away because of changes in the climate. I don't see anyone putting together contribution funds to help move Kivalina; that is our obligation, we stand by that—we need to figure out how to do that. But those are very expensive—we have about 12 villages in that situation." (Daily Caller, Oct. 13; Alaska Dispatch News, Oct. 9) Right, and just keep on pumping out that oil and soon you'll have even more, mandating pumping out yet more oil. Ah, the genius of capitalism!
The effort to open the ANWR was dealt a blow in July, when a US district court turned down a bid launched by former Gov. Sean Parnell to conduct seismic exploration in caribou calving habitat within the reserve. The case was brought by the environmental groups and the Gwich'in Steering Committee. The Gwich'in people rely on the ANWR's caribou for their food and cultural survival, and call the calving grounds the "Sacred Place Where Life Begins." (Center for Biological Diversity, July 21)