Bill aims to permanently stop Arctic drilling

Signal of change / Bill aims to permanently stop Arctic drilling

By Will Ingram / 15 Oct 2015

Congressman Jared Huffman has introduced a Bill to Congress that aims to prohibit the United States from the renewal or new authorisation of oil and gas leases in the Arctic Ocean.

The Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act of 2015 acknowledges that global climate change is mostly a result of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and that, to protect the US from its impacts, fossil fuels must be kept in the ground.

The Californian congressman has a history with environmental policy and is the author of the Udall-Eisenhower Artic Wilderness Act which aims to protect 1.5 million acres of wilderness.

The Bill closely follows the announcement by Royal Dutch Shell that it is terminating its exploration in the Chukchi Sea, Alaska, after only finding negligible deposits. The company received a permit for drilling in August despite a 75% likelihood of accident (according to the Department of Interior) and the fragility of the surrounding ecosystem.

Ocean drilling remains beneath the dark cloud of the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which saw crude oil gush from a ruptured sea-bed valve for 87 days, and cost BP itself many billions of dollars.

Image credit: wsquared / Flickr

So what?

Does the zeal of an environmentally concerned Congressman stand a chance against the might of Big Oil? If the Bill is passed, could this be an early sign of increased divergence of political action from business interests, in favour of the environment?

As oil companies continue to search for lucrative deposits around the world, the Arctic has become a focal point for resistance. It is unclear whether this Bill would have been introduced without the catalyst of Shell’s Arctic activities, but the company’s retreat from the Northern waters has brought commercial interests in the area to the public eye.

Out of the 7,000-odd Bills currently in front of the United States Congress this Bill is not listed as ‘hot’ by govtrack.us.

While Congressman Huffman highlights that “an oil spill in the Arctic would be an environmental catastrophe that would pollute and cripple the ocean ecosystem”, it is interesting to note that seven out of the eight Statements of the Bill focus on global climate change, rather than the danger of ecosystem damage.

The Obama administration aims to make climate change an issue of legacy, for example through the US-China climate deals in the lead up to Paris is December. Is Huffman’s Bill symptomatic of a growing climate-conscious political will in the US?

Sources

Maritime Executive (October 1, 2015) House Bill to Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling

Jared Huffman (September 28, 2015) Huffman introduces stop Arctic ocean drilling act

Congress.gov (July 16, 2015) Senate Bill 1794

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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