Obama Has a Lot of Enemies on Arctic Drilling. Al Gore Is the Latest.

The former vice president calls drilling in the icy waters “insane.”

Former US Vice President Al Gore attends a session of the World Economic Forum annual meeting on January 21, 2015 in Davos.
National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
July 16, 2015, 7:09 a.m.

President Obama’s decision to let Shell drill for oil in Arctic waters feels like a betrayal to many of his environmental allies.

Add Al Gore to that list.

“I think Arctic drilling is insane,” the former vice president-turned-environmental-activist said in an interview with The Guardian in Toronto. “The Deepwater Horizon spill was warning enough, and the conditions are so hostile to human activity there that, no, I think it’s a mistake to drill for oil in the Arctic. I think that ought to be banned.”

Gore was quick to say “that in his second term [Obama] has done really quite a good job” of tackling global warming overall. Gore’s criticism of the president over Arctic drilling, however, is all but guaranteed to add momentum to a broader fight to prevent the administration from letting Shell search for Arctic oil this summer.

Senate Democrats are also pushing back hard on Arctic drilling. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon will unveil legislation on Thursday aimed at stopping any drilling in frigid and notoriously treacherous Arctic waters, an effort that will likely win widespread support from the environmental movement. Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Edward Markey of Massachusetts have signed on as cosponsors.

Meanwhile, green groups have descended on the port of Seattle in kayaks in an attempt to block Shell from moving its drilling rigs to the Chukchi Sea where the oil giant plans to drill.

Environmentalists fear that Arctic drilling could spark a major spill that would be impossible to contain and would be potentially devastating to wildlife off the Arctic coast.

The Obama administration announced in May that Shell could move forward with plans to explore Arctic waters for oil, citing tightened federal safety standards as one reason officials believe the decision is justified.

The move was met with cautious approval from the oil and gas industry, which views the vast untapped energy reserves of the Arctic as a major potential economic opportunity.

But the decision has generated intense opposition from environmentalists who worry about the risk of a spill and say that the move is a step in exactly the wrong direction at a time when the movement has rallied around the aim of keeping as much of the world’s existing reserves of oil and gas in the ground.

Bill McKibben, a pioneer of the grassroots environmental movement and a leading opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, went as far as to call the president’s decision a different form of climate-change denial in a New York Times op-ed in May.

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