As Melting Artic Sea Ice Opens Up Oil and Gas Resources, Secretary Salazar Backs Offshore Drilling

Speaking in Anchorage, Alaska yesterday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar threw his support behind offshore drilling in the Arctic, saying the nation should “take a look at what’s up there and see what it is we can develop.”

Salazar’s support comes a week after the Interior Department issued a conditional exploration permit to Shell that would give the company four years to drill off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Companies have been pushing for more offshore drilling in the Arctic as sea ice melts faster and longer due to a changing climate, making oil and gas resources easier to access.

But late last month, U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Robert Papp testified that his agency is unprepared for an oil spill off the Arctic coast — an area with weather and water conditions that would present challenges far greater than in the Gulf of Mexico, where the nation’s worst oil spill took place last year.

“One of the things that we learned from Deepwater Horizon is if you don’t think through what is the worst-possible case, it’s difficult for you to plan on how much equipment you’ll need,” he said. “We had to turn on the oil boom manufacturers around the world to supply us. We had to employ thousands of fishing boats to go out there and do skimming operations.

“Although private industry may assert they’re adequately prepared to respond to a spill, we must also determine what response capability our Coast Guard and nation needs so we can mount an adequate response as exploration advances towards production,” he said.

Meanwhile, Think Progress Green reported yesterday that Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is attacking President Obama for not doing enough in the Arctic. Speaking with the Des Moines Register, Santorum called for more drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge while blaming the protection of caribou to the nation’s insurance problems:

You’re worried about people being uninsured, why don’t you some drilling in Alaska, and make sure they’ve got jobs? You’re worried about the uninsured? I’ll get you insurance. You produce more oil, we’d have a stronger economy, a lot more people would be insured. I would expect that there are some here who say that we can’t do that because of the caribou. But don’t come and talk to me, well, let’s be cutting the uninsured.

Forget a massive oil spill. Forget climate change. When all other messaging fails, blame it on the caribou.