Eight Years Later, Obama Bars Arctic Oil, Gas Leasing
In a move to build and possibly preserve his environmental legacy, US President Barack Obama has put an “indefinite” ban on oil and gas leasing in most of US-owned waters in the Arctic Ocean and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean.
In a move to protect the environmentally sensitive Arctic before he leaves office in January, Obama’s decision also flies in the face of President-elect Donald Trump’s promise to unleash the country’s untapped energy reserves.
Justin Urquhart Stewart, director at Seven Investment Management in London, told New Europe by phone that it is almost certain Trump is going to try to reverse the ban. “He has friends in the oil industry; that’s something he particularly said he didn’t want to have happen; he will see that almost as spike from Obama, so I think that’s going to be one of his first actions to see if he can try to reverse that,” he said.
The Obama Administration hopes the outgoing president’s environmental policies will hold off Trump from reversing some of Obama’s most recent environmental regulations.
“We just don’t know frankly what the Constitution, if he can tie future presidents to such agreement. I think Trump will do his best that doesn’t work. He will probably throw it to the Supreme Court and throw a spanner in the works so nothing gets finally agreed,” Urquhart Stewart said.
Obama and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the ban on offshore oil and gas activity in the Arctic in a joint statement issued on December 20.
“Today, President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau are proud to launch actions ensuring a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem, with low-impact shipping, science-based management of marine resources, and free from the future risks of offshore oil and gas activity,” the statement read.
Obama invoked a little-known provision in a 1953 law, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, to ban offshore leases in the waters permanently. According to the stature, the president of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.
Environmental groups hope the ban, despite relying on executive powers, will be difficult for future presidents to reverse.
The Atlantic waters placed off limits to new oil and gas leasing are 31 canyons stretching off the coast of New England south to Virginia, though some had hoped for a more extensive ban that would have extended further south, according to AP. Existing leases aren’t affected by the president’s executive actions.
The administration cited environmental concerns in both regions to justify the moratorium. Obama also cited the importance of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in providing subsistence for native Alaskans and the vulnerability of the ecosystem to an oil spill to justify his directive, the news agency reported.
Obama also noted the level of fuel production occurring in the Arctic. Obama said just 0.1% of offshore crude production came from the Arctic in 2015, and at current oil prices, significant production would not occur in future decades.
“That’s why looking forward, we must continue to focus on economic empowerment for Arctic communities beyond this one sector,” Obama said.
Industry officials objected to Obama’s memorandum. “Instead of building on our nation’s position as a global energy leader, today’s unilateral mandate could put America back on a path of energy dependence for decades to come,” said Dan Naatz of the Independent Petroleum Association of America was quoted as saying.