White House outlines new policy for protecting, drilling in Arctic

May 13, 2013 by Erika Bolstad

The Obama administration on Friday released a national strategy for the Arctic in advance of Secretary of State John Kerry's trip next week to Sweden to attend a conference of eight polar nations.

In the policy, the White House outlines its approach to some key issues, even as it acknowledges that there are conflicting - and even contradictory - goals and challenges as rapidly melting sea ice makes the region more accessible. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as other regions of the Earth.

"Our pioneering spirit is naturally drawn to this region for the economic opportunities it presents and in recognition of the need to protect and conserve this unique, valuable and changing environment," Obama said in the opening page of the strategy, released in advance of Wednesday's Arctic Council meeting.

Some of the potential include the possibility of additional , new fishing territory and increased transit through previously inaccessible oceans, and even tourism. But they come as the United States has to grapple with the question of how much the oil and will contribute to the very conditions that are opening the Arctic to more exploration. The president's Arctic strategy came out even as scientists recorded the highest-ever daily mean concentrations of in the Earth's atmosphere.

The White House said the U.S. approach to Arctic matters includes responding to emerging opportunities while simultaneously protecting and conserving a unique environment. Its strategy also recognizes that an undisciplined approach to exploring new opportunities could harm the region as well as threaten national security interests and the global good.

Environmental organizations that monitor the Arctic say Obama's policy lacks muscle. They're worried in particular about whether the Arctic Council will be more aggressive in its policies on short-term pollutants, including , that help accelerate sea ice melt in the Arctic.

"Climate change is wreaking havoc on the Arctic, melting and permafrost, increasing storms and erosion, and making life utterly unpredictable for the people and animals that call the Arctic home," Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, said in an email. "Rather than making vague statements about Arctic stewardship, the Obama administration should put forward real solutions, such as a cap on black carbon emissions and a moratorium on Arctic offshore oil development."

In Sweden, Kerry, along with representatives from other polar nations, will sign an agreement to cooperate on marine oil pollution preparedness and response. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, will be joining him at the Arctic Council meeting. The Arctic's importance to the United States as a nation demands greater attention, Murkowski said in a statement.

The State Department said the agreement is designed so that as the potential for oil exploration grows in the region, Arctic countries are able to quickly and cooperatively respond to spills before they endanger lives and threaten fragile ecosystems. Already, that capacity has been tested. The U.S. Coast Guard has asked the Justice Department to investigate possible violations by both of the drilling rigs Shell used in its botched efforts to explore for oil last year in Arctic waters off the northern coast of Alaska.

"In the Arctic, that all-of-the-above policy is so wrong for so many reasons," Erika Rosenthal of Earthjustice, an environmental legal organization, said in an interview. Rosenthal has worked on developing a policy on short-term emissions for the Arctic Council. "There's no demonstrated spill response policy, and the Arctic is an enormously sensitive environment."

The administration was careful to note it would work closely with the state of Alaska as well as tribes in the region. That includes pairing traditional knowledge with current scientific research, as well as careful consideration of the role of tribal governments in the Arctic. The announced plans Friday to hold roundtable discussions in Alaska in June to discuss how to actually put in place the concepts laid out in the national strategy.

In April, a federal working group recommended that the Obama administration adopt a science-based approach to managing the region. Now, said Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, the challenge is to commit to paying for icebreakers, Arctic ports and the research that's vital to sustainable management of the region.

"I'm pleased this administration responded to our request to recognize the enormous opportunities and challenges in a changing Arctic," Begich said in a statement. "Until now, the U.S. was the only Arctic nation lacking a formal strategy and effort to coordinate federal agencies in their approach to the Arctic."

Explore further: Icy Arctic rising as economic, security hot spot

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Icy Arctic rising as economic, security hot spot

May 11, 2013

The icy Arctic is emerging as a global economic hot spot—and one that is becoming a security concern for the U.S. as world powers jockey to tap its vast energy resources and stake out unclaimed territories.

China ship sails to Atlantic and back, via Arctic

Sep 27, 2012

(AP)—A Chinese icebreaker docked Thursday at Shanghai after becoming the first vessel from China to cross the Arctic Ocean, a landmark trip that is part of Beijing's efforts to expand its presence in the ...

Shell freezes Alaska drilling until 2014

Feb 27, 2013

Oil giant Shell put its controversial oil drilling plans for the Alaskan Arctic on hold through 2013, following multiple embarrassing problems with its two drilling rigs.

New US offshore oil leasing plan includes Arctic

Nov 08, 2011

The Obama administration on Tuesday proposed a new plan for offshore oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska, including the environmentally sensitive Arctic.

Recommended for you

US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

Apr 18, 2014

The United States announced Friday a fresh delay on a final decision regarding a controversial Canada to US oil pipeline, saying more time was needed to carry out a review.

New research on Earth's carbon budget

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Results from a research project involving scientists from the Desert Research Institute have generated new findings surrounding some of the unknowns of changes in climate and the degree to which ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...