On Tuesday, the Obama administration enacted a permanent ban on drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. Through the use of a 1953 law, the ban blocks the sale of offshore drilling and mining rights, and creates obstacles for Obama’s successors to reverse the move. The ban comes ahead of the Trump administration taking office at the end of Obama’s term next month.
The ban, which affects federal waters stretching from the Chesapeake Bay on the Atlantic coast up to the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska, is unprecedented in its massive scale. It could be challenged in court by President-elect Trump, who has called climate change a hoax and appointed a number of climate-change deniers to his cabinet. In response, there has been a chorus of environmentalists calling for Obama to take whatever actions he can to protect the environment ahead of the Trump era.
Obama announced the ban jointly with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, who also enacted a moratorium on oil and gas leases in the waters of the Canadian Arctic. That moratorium is subject to periodic reviews.
Obama’s statement said:
“These actions, and Canada’s parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth. They reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited. By contrast, it would take decades to fully develop the production infrastructure necessary for any large-scale oil and gas leasing production in the region – at a time when we need to continue to move decisively away from fossil fuels.”
Merely 0.1 percent of federal offshore crude production comes from the Arctic, and according to the Department of the Interior, current oil prices suggest that there won’t be significant oil production there.
“That’s why looking forward, we must continue to focus on economic empowerment for Arctic communities beyond this one sector,” according to Obama’s statement.
Environmental advocates celebrated the decision. Speaking to the Associated Press, Jacqueline Savitz, who is a senior vice-president at the advocacy group Oceana, said:
“This decision will help protect existing lucrative coastal tourism and fishing businesses from offshore drilling, which promises smaller, short-lived returns and threatens coastal livelihoods. The people of the Atlantic coast refused to allow their way of life to be compromised and we commend their hard work making their voices heard in Washington.”