Drilling for oil in the United States has been a long-standing battle, a battle which was only made more aggressive by the BP Gulf oil spill last year. A moratorium was placed on expanding offshore drilling due to the spill, however, this was overturned in May due to growing gas prices. Oil exploration has continued since then in both Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.
Recently the U.S. approved BP for appraisal drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. While the company still has to go through the permit process, BP is expected to expand their drilling in the next few years. This announcement surprised many due to BP still needing to pay their fines accrued by the massive spill and overall BP having a negative standing in the country. Since the BP spill, concerns regarding offshore oil drilling have increased, especially for areas such as the Arctic.
Now a new announcement by the U.S. government is increasing worries of environmental groups. The Obama administration recently announced that they will be increasing the areas in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska available for oil and gas drilling. Lease sales are expected to be held between 2012 and 2017.
The plan includes a total of fifteen lease sale areas, of which three are located off of Alaska’s coastline in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stated: “This five-year program will make available for development more than three-quarters of undiscovered oil and gas resources estimated on the OCS [Outer Continental Shelf], including frontier areas such as the Arctic, where we must proceed cautiously.”
As Salazar alluded to, oil and gas drilling in the Arctic is hampered even more by the potential for environmental disaster. Not only is the area suffering under climate change, home to many species found nowhere else and many which are in danger of extinction, the Arctic is also inherently more difficult to clean if oil spills occur. Due to the weather, temperatures and general conditions in the Arctic, spills are difficult to contain and even difficult to reach.
The Obama administration has noted that the drilling in Alaska will be left to the later period of the five years in order to properly study potential environmental damage.