Human rights activist Bianca Jagger wrote a letter to President Obama condemning him for his recent decision to allow drilling in the Arctic, calling it the “mortal sin” of his presidency. But like other activists out to stop all fossil fuel development, her letter falls short on something important — facts. Read on for a breakdown of the biggest myths Jagger touts in her letter.
MYTH: Jagger says that “to approve Shell’s Arctic gamble President Obama should have assessed the oil industry’s record,” implying that he did not make an informed decision on the Arctic.
FACT: Jagger’s comments make it seem as if drilling in the Arctic is a new phenomenon, but the reality is that the region has seen successful energy exploration and development for 80 years.
America’s Arctic offshore program is the most heavily scrutinized and regulated in the world. In fact, there are currently over 1,000 technical reports and peer-reviewed publications on Arctic drilling from the federal government alone.
MYTH: Jagger claims that it’s “impossible to protect the Arctic while allowing Shell to drill for oil 70 miles off the coast of Alaska.”
FACT: In addition to a proven history of safe Arctic development, the Obama Administration has also added new safeguards to a complex regulatory regime for Arctic drilling to protect both the environment and people of the Arctic. What the President called “the highest standards possible” in his weekly address last month is no exaggeration:
“That’s precisely why my administration has worked to make sure that our oil exploration conducted under these leases is done at the highest standards possible, with requirements specifically tailored to the risks of drilling off Alaska. We don’t rubber-stamp permits. We made it clear that Shell has to meet our high standards in how they conduct their operations – and it’s a testament to how rigorous we’ve applied those standards that Shell has delayed and limited its exploration off Alaska while trying to meet them.”
Jagger also fails to acknowledge the strong level of support Arctic energy development receives from the Native Alaskan communities closest to these operations. The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation’s (ASRC) Executive Vice President for Lands and Natural Resources, Richard Glenn, testified in Washington, D.C. that many Alaskans favor exploration and production. He emphasized that “without development, our region, our communities will not survive.”
“We are also no strangers to oil and gas development. The industry has operated safely in our backyard for over four decades producing more than 15 billion barrels of oil from the North Slope in that time. With those barrels come jobs, security and opportunity.”
In fact, many native Alaskans are employed in the oil and gas industry through enterprises such as ASRC Energy, supporting industry through regulatory and technical services, drilling support services, geoscience, marine services, construction, engineering and operations and maintenance activities. As such, concerns for Native Alaskans and their way of life were incorporated in the regulations that govern oil and gas exploration and development in Alaska’s Arctic waters. Regulators also paid careful attention to potential impacts of development on the environment, resulting in the overall mandate that all activities “shall be conducted in a manner that prevents unreasonable conflicts between the oil and gas industry and subsistence activities,” and supplemented by research programs, such as a site-specific monitoring program for marine mammals.
MYTH: Jagger claims, “no safeguards or standards will be enough to prevent an oil spill” and “cleaning up after oil spills is always a difficult and traumatic task. The Arctic Ocean presents additional problems.”
The federal agency regulating offshore exploration, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), issued a fact sheet explaining the real risks of an Arctic oil spill after these risks had been roundly mischaracterized. From that fact sheet:
“Q: Is it accurate to say that “If Shell’s Chukchi Sea Exploration Plan is approved, there is a 75-percent chance of a large oil spill?”
A: No. First, the 75-percent chance figure does not apply to plans of any particular operator; it applies to a hypothetical long-term exploration and production scenario created by BOEM analysts over the full life of all leases issued in the Chukchi Sea. Second, Shell has to this point proposed only an exploration program. Even in BOEM’s hypothetical scenario, the data suggest that a large spill in the exploration phase is very unlikely. In the exploration phase, wells are drilled to discover the location of oil or natural gas. In the production phase, wells are drilled to extract the oil or gas from beneath the seabed.”
MYTH: Jagger claims, “Arctic oil drilling will cause increased greenhouse gas emissions and catastrophic climate change.”
FACT: This statement directly contradicts what has been occurring in the United States: While oil and gas production has significantly increased across the country, emissions are currently at the lowest they’ve been in 20 years.
A Bloomberg New Energy Finance report stated that “2015 will be the cleanest year in over 60 years for which we have historical data.” And according to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory from earlier this year, methane emissions have actually decreased by 38 percent across the country, at the same time oil and gas production has increased by 26 percent. From the inventory:
“Since 1990, CH4 emissions from production of crude oil have decreased by 21 percent. This net decrease is due mainly to increasing voluntary reductions through Natural Gas STAR in the production segment [emphasis added].” (3-58)
The massive estimated reserves of natural gas in the American Arctic can play a large role in reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions by providing a cleaner alternative for baseload electric generation in the U.S. and abroad.
MYTH: Jagger claims that “88% of the world’s known coal reserves, 52% of gas and 35% of oil must be left untouched.”
FACT: As much as activists want to shut down all fossil fuel development, the world needs to have a steady supply of oil and gas not only to thrive, but to survive. The products made from petroleum touch every aspect of American lives, from the plastics around the home and office, to the parts used to build computers, buildings, and even hygiene products, such as tooth brushes and shampoo. And that’s not even counting what’s used for heating, transportation and power generation or in growing and distributing food products.
As long as there is a demand for these products, oil and gas development be needed in order to provide a steady, affordable supply of our nation’s resources. The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2040, global demand for energy will increase by 37 percent, and oil and gas will play a critical role in meeting those demands.
While Jagger’s lengthy letter to the President contains a lot of words, it lacks the substance, science and facts to support them. On the contrary, President Obama’s decision to allow drilling in the Arctic is supported by a long history of proven safe development in the Arctic and a complex set of rigorous regulations, and it will help meet the growing demand for energy in our country — and in other countries as well.