Offshore oil and gas reserves, primarily along coastlines in Alaska, California, Louisiana, and Texas, account for a large proportion of the oil and gas supply in the United States. In August 2015, President Obama authorized Royal Dutch Shell to expand drilling off Alaska’s northwest coast. His decision brought into sharp relief the different, oftentimes competing views on the expansion of offshore drilling.
Many proponents of offshore drilling argue that tapping into the vast amount of oil and gas reserves in the Arctic will help shore up national security interests for the United States, bolster its economy and workforce, and offer Americans a reliable, safe supply of oil. According to Robert Bryce, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, there are “enormous amounts of recoverable energy resources in the Arctic. The Department of Energy estimates them at something on the order of 400 billion barrels of oil equivalent in natural gas and oil. That’s four times the crude oil reserves of Kuwait.” Framed this way, drilling in the Arctic presents a way for Americans to mitigate risks from dependence on foreign oil and build the local and national economies by creating jobs and supplying cheap oil.
A competing point of view charges that offshore oil drilling poses immense risk to the environment while reinforcing a reliance on dirty, environmentally unfriendly sources of energy. Critics claim that industrial activity associated with offshore drilling in the Arctic could harm native animals, including polar bears, walruses, seals, and whales already jeopardized by climate warming and declining levels of sea ice. Environmentalists argue that oil companies have not demonstrated the capability to clean up an oil spill in water obstructed by ice. Furthermore, they contend, extracting oil only perpetuates a fossil-fuel economy and will contribute dangerously to rising global temperature thereby exacerbating climate change.
“Granting Shell the permit to drill in the Arctic was the wrong decision, and this fight is far from over,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “The people will continue to call on President Obama to protect the Arctic and our environment.”
What would be an ethically ideal way to resolve this issue and why?