Why is President Obama allowing Shell Oil to drill in the Arctic Ocean?
By Audrey Peterman
In an impassioned article last week, I pointed out that President Obama’s devastating decision allowing Shell to drill in the Arctic Ocean runs so far counter to his environmental policy that it is important for us to know what’s behind it. With-in a day I found some answers that are so chilling I’ve been striving to put the subject completely out of my mind.
But what is a citizen in a democracy if not one who will participate in the civic and political life to create the ideal she sees? As someone who knows from traveling the National Parks how much blood, sweat and tears has been invested in the development of our country to get us here, I owe my 13-month old grandson the courage to take action.
Having served multiple terms on the boards of national non-profits dedicated to the public lands system, I understand the role of advisory and advocacy groups in crafting national policy. It’s exhilarating when something we’ve been working on for years finally gets to the point where it can be announced by a president as a pleasant surprise for the public. As a citizen and an advocate, I presume a president has the final say and in the case of President Obama, the “final say” to environmental night-mares such as the Keystone pipeline has been an emphatic “no.”
Even so, it came as a great shock to me to read the headline,
“There’s more to Obama’s Arctic trip than just hypocrisy: Critics of the president’s Alaska visit should examine the National Petroleum Council’s role in pushing drilling“… Although such criticism has a point, it misses the force behind the decision to approve Arctic drilling to begin with: the National Petroleum Council (NPC) Obama’s ad-ministration oversees.
“In October 2013, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz re-quested that the NPC do a study on the potential for Arctic drilling. A year and half later the NPC’s Artic drilling study committee – chaired by ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson – not only published a pro-drilling report titled, ‘Arctic Potential: Realizing the Promise of U.S. Arctic Oil and Gas Resources,’ but al-so created an entire website and social media campaign around its release.
“Created in 1946 as the successor to the Petroleum Industry War Council, the NPC is an advisory committee to the Secretary of Energy consisting mostly of executives and CEOs of some of the biggest oil and gas companies on the planet. A case in point: its president is Charles D. Davidson, CEO of Noble Energy, and its vice president is the aforementioned Tillerson. As the ‘advisory’ badge makes clear, NPC advises and influences U.S. and more broadly, global energy policy.”
Say what? I didn’t know about the NPC, though I consider myself an informed citizen. I cannot blame the group for the President’s decision, but I do find it very chilling that a group of people who’ve have an overwhelming vested interest in the exploitation of our commonly held resources have so much power in a decision that could destabilize our planet.
Even more harrowing are multiple reports I found showing the geopolitical climate of aggression that is heating up the Arctic. The most cogent piece I found was in Al Jazeera titled:
Russia in pole position as US falls behind in race for Arctic resources
“When President Barack Obama on Wednesday (9/3/2025) becomes the first sit-ting U.S. president to set foot above the Arctic Circle, he will enter a vast territory under-going a historic and rapid transformation. Climate change, resource competition and renewed Russian military interest threaten to turn a place marked by cooperation in the decades since the Cold War into a zone of contention.
“As the sea ice recedes, Arctic waters, including the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, are becoming more navigable than at any time in the known past. Yet in the race to stake claims in this newly accessible region, Russia is far ahead of the rest.
“…. the Arctic is beginning to become militarized, and there is no forum or place to discuss security-related issues and to promote greater transparency and confidence,” said a report, ‘The New Ice Curtain,’ released in August by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.
“In a sign of how far behind the U.S. has fallen in the push to exploit an Arctic now less encumbered by ice sheets, Obama — who is visiting Alaska — on Tuesday announced a plan to speed up by two years the building of new ice-breaking ships that can help access and navigate routes for sea traffic and resource exploration. Russia has 41 ice-breakers. The U.S. fleet contains two, and they are outdated. “
Whew!! I could be my own fault that I knew only vaguely of this issue and had no idea that so much is in play. I erred last week in saying we worked 20 years to keep drilling out of the Arctic, as it was specifically the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that we fought the Bush administration tooth and nail to prevent drilling. Drilling has been going on in the Arctic for a long time, except that now we know the true cost as an accelerant of climate change.
I don’t know what’s to blame that these vital issues are not front and center in American discourse. But it does strike me that as a society we are tilting at windmills while ignoring the real monsters in our midst.
(Audrey Peterman is an environmentalist and writer living in Fort Lauderdale. Audrey@legacyontheland.com).