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Today’s oil drilling fuels tomorrow’s political and economic problems

As Obama opens the Arctic for oil drilling, is he also making it harder for America to wean itself from its dependence on fossil fuels?

Michael Lazarus, Peter Erickson / Published on 28 September 2015
Oil exploration vessel
The Polar Pioneer, used by Shell to explore for oil in the Arctic. Photo: sunrisesoup / Flickr.

Earlier this month, the fossil fuel economy was confronted with two stark reality checks. The first, a scientific study on the effects of fuel combustion, showed that if we burned all the fossil fuels in the world, roughly 10 trillion tons of carbon would be released, causing global temperatures to soar. The Antarctic ice sheet would melt, the study reported, releasing enough water to raise global sea levels by 58 meters. The effects would be felt for millennia.

The same day that the fossil fuel study came out, Goldman Sachs warned that the oil market is “even more oversupplied than we had expected”, and that the oil surplus is likely to continue in 2016.

These two stories broke just days after the Obama administration gave Royal Dutch Shell final approval to drill for oil in the Arctic – a move for which the president faced charges of hypocrisy when, shortly afterward, he visited Alaska to raise awareness of climate change. Obama has justified his decision as a strategy to help reduce the US reliance on oil imports. The US economy still runs on oil and gas, he pointed out, adding that, “as long as that’s the case, I believe we should rely more on domestic production than on foreign imports”.

In an unexpected reversal on Monday, Royal Dutch Shell voluntarily ended almost a decade of exploration in the Alaskan Arctic, saying the amount of fossil fuels found were not worth the cost.

Source: The Guardian Sustainable Business blog, UK

Written by

Michael Lazarus
Michael Lazarus

Center Director


Peter Erickson

SEI Affiliated Researcher


Topics and subtopics
Climate : Mitigation, Fossil fuels / Energy : Fossil fuels
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