Less than a week after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama committed to protect Arctic waters, the U.S. government has announced it's planning on opening up oil and gas leases in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released its new five-year offshore oil and gas draft program yesterday. In its 2017-2022 program plan, the government announced plans to open up a lease in the Beaufort Sea in 2020, Cook Inlet in 2021 and in the Chukchi Sea in 2022.
"These potential sales in the three Alaska program areas are scheduled late in the five-year period to provide additional opportunity to evaluate and obtain information regarding environmental issues, subsistence use needs, infrastructure capabilities, and results from any exploration activity associated with existing leases," the draft proposed program says.
BOEM says it will be holding meetings in cities and communities impacted by the proposed plan and will be accepting comments on the plan for the next 90 days.
"Public input is paramount to our planning process," BOEM's director Abigail Ross says in a press release.
"We will seek additional input from citizens, industry, other Federal and state agencies and elected officials as we develop the proposed final program."
Announcement on heels of U.S./Canada protection pledge
On March 10, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S, President Barack Obama met in Washington and pledged to create a pan-Arctic marine protection area network, including at least 10 per cent of their Arctic waters and 17 per cent of their Arctic land mass, committing to "substantially surpass these national goals in the coming years."
The two leaders also pledged to be strict in licensing any kind of Arctic development, and to "set a world-class standard by basing development decisions and operations on scientific evidence."
The Beaufort and Chukchi Seas are home to roughly half of the world's population of polar bears. The marine ecosystems are also home to other marine mammals, including bowhead and beluga whales and seabirds.
"As BOEM moves forward with offshore oil and gas planning, the agency will work with Canada to meet the world-class standard for Arctic Stewardship set by the two nations," a BOEM release states.
"The U.S. and Canada recently recommitted to a shared responsibility to conserve the rich biodiversity of the Arctic and to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples," Greenpeace's Arctic Campaigner, Farrah Khan, said in a press release.
"It seems both are being ignored with this lease announcement. We know that oil spills don't stop at the border and an oil spill on any side of the invisible boundary in the Beaufort Sea would have catastrophic environmental, human and economic consequences."
The news comes shortly after Imperial Oil and BP delayed their plans to drill for oil in the Beaufort Sea, off the Northwest Territories' coast. The companies suspended all regulatory work for the project in June.