Washington — A group of Democratic senators is calling for the Interior Department to halt future Alaska offshore drilling leases, saying the president hasn’t made the case that drilling in the environmentally sensitive region is safe.
“Challenges with infrastructure and spill response are unprecedented in the Arctic’s remote, undeveloped region,” the senators wrote Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Senators signing the letter this week were Richard Durbin of Illinois, Barbara Boxer of California, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. They questioned the oil spill response capabilities in the Arctic and said there needs to be a better scientific monitoring plan. They also want more areas off limits.
The senators urged the Interior Department to remove Arctic offshore drilling from its 2012-2017 leasing program. An Interior Department spokesman had no response to the letter on Wednesday.
The Obama administration’s proposed offshore oil leasing program includes a pair of potential sales in the Alaska Arctic. That would be a 2016 sale in the Chukchi Sea and a 2017 sale in the Beaufort Sea.
“We are committed to moving forward with leasing offshore Alaska, and scheduling those sales later in the program allows for further development of scientific information on the oil and gas resource potential in these areas and further study of potential impacts to the environment,” Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes said when the plan was announced in July.