ISSN 2330-717X

US Senators Press Administration To Drop New Fossil Fuel Leases From Offshore Drilling Plan

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Ten US Senators pressed the Obama Administration on Wednesday to strengthen its climate commitments by dropping all new fossil fuel leases from the 5-year Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

The letter, which was sent to Interior Secretary Sally Jewel, was signed by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ben Cardin (D-MD).

“Our nation’s federal public waters should be managed for the benefit of the American public, and unlocking new carbon reserves in the Atlantic and Arctic Ocean, as well as continuing to offer new leases in the Gulf of Mexico, many of which have the potential to produce oil and gas for decades into the future, runs counter to the best interests of this nation,” wrote the Senators. “The proposed expansion of the 2017-2022 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program would contradict the President’s climate goals, and unnecessarily threaten local communities, resources, and ecosystems, all the while damaging the global climate.”

They concluded, “We strongly urge the Department of the Interior to critically examine the impact on climate change from expanded oil and gas production in the subsequent stages of developing the 2017-2022 plan. Given the prevailing science and critical need to quickly reduce carbon emissions, we believe it is imperative that the federal government does not offer new leases, and make every effort to terminate existing, nonproducing leases, for fossil fuel development in public waters.”

In November, Merkley, Cardin, Sanders, Leahy, Warren and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the Keep It in the Ground Act, landmark legislation to end all new fossil fuel leases on federal public lands and waters in the United States.

The full text of the letter follows below.

Dear Secretary Jewell:

We are writing in regards to the proposed 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program and the subsequent effects on our nation’s climate goals. We urge that the upcoming five year OCS leasing program refrain from opening any new fossil fuel reserves for development in order to keep with the President’s commitment to keep the planet’s average temperature rise under 2° Celsius. We believe that in order to maintain consistent climate policy, fossil fuel reserves in the OCS program should be permanently protected from new development.

In January 2015, the Department of Interior released a Draft Proposed Program (DPP) for the 2017-2022 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The DPP included three planning areas in the Gulf of Mexico, two in the Atlantic, and three in Alaska. While we are pleased the DPP did not open new carbon reserves off the Pacific Coast, the proposed planning areas still encompass nearly 80% of estimated undiscovered and technically available oil and gas resources on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, and have the potential to unlock the emissions of 90 billion barrels of crude oil and 405 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

According to the most current science, the world has approximately 1,000 Gigatons of CO2 emissions left before it hits the 2° Celsius warming threshold. The International Energy Agency estimates that if the world continues its current emissions course, we will exhaust our carbon budget by 2040, highlighting the pressing need to stop the development of new fossil fuel energy sources. Given the urgent timeline, it is even more important that most untapped reserves, such as oil in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, stay in the ground in order to avoid 2° Celsius of warming.

While we applaud the Administration’s efforts to combat climate change through the Clean Power Plan and other initiatives, we are troubled by the inherent contradiction in the Department of Interior’s proposal to expand the leasing of public waters and facilitate the development of new fossil fuels reserves.

Our nation’s federal public waters should be managed for the benefit of the American public, and unlocking new carbon reserves in the Atlantic and Arctic Ocean, as well as continuing to offer new leases in the Gulf of Mexico, many of which have the potential to produce oil and gas for decades into the future, runs counter to the best interests of this nation. The proposed expansion of the 2017-2022 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program would contradict the President’s climate goals, and unnecessarily threaten local communities, resources, and ecosystems, all the while damaging the global climate.

We strongly urge the Department of the Interior to critically examine the impact on climate change from expanded oil and gas production in the subsequent stages of developing the 2017-2022 plan. Given the prevailing science and critical need to quickly reduce carbon emissions, we believe it is imperative that the federal government does not offer new leases, and make every effort to terminate existing, nonproducing leases, for fossil fuel development in public waters in the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

We request that you report back to Congress on how your agency plans to incorporate climate change into the 2017-2022 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program, and explain how expanding fossil fuel development in federal waters complies with the Administration’s commitment to mitigate global climate change. We ask that you provide this information before your agency releases the Proposed Final Program and Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the 2017-2022 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

Thank you for your consideration.


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