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Arctic and Gulf Still Open to Offshore Drilling in Obama's 5-Year Draft Plan

Energy

Today, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released a draft five-year plan for 2017-2022 that closes the Atlantic Ocean for oil and gas drilling leases, citing strong local opposition along with market dynamics and conflicts with military and commercial use. The plan also proposes 10 new leases in the Gulf of Mexico and three in the Arctic Ocean, but says that a no-lease option will be possible for the Arctic Ocean in the final plan.

Along with its new proposal, BOEM also released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement that examines the program's potential impacts on the environment. The five-year plan will be open for comment until June 16 and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which will be released March 18, will be open for comment until May 2.

We are pleased that President Obama responded to concerns of businesses and residents along the East Coast by removing the Atlantic Ocean from the areas open to offshore drilling. This is wonderful news for the Atlantic coast economy and millions of Americans who want to keep treasured beaches from Florida to Virginia oil free. That said, to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to keep a vast majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground. This requires decisive action, including stopping offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic Ocean.

The five-year plan would still allow drilling in the Gulf and the Arctic. This endangers the fragile Arctic ecosystem and subjects the already battered Gulf coast to further risk from fossil fuel disasters. How can President Obama allow more oil and gas drilling when we have a decade-long ongoing oil spill that the government won't force Taylor Energy to fix and are still struggling to recover from the damages that Deepwater Horizon inflicted on our waters, wildlife and economy? It is time for the federal government to stop sacrificing the Gulf to a dirty, destructive industry that exploits and destroys our shared resources.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.