With President Obama in his final days and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau still early in his term, the two took steps on Tuesday to curb the amount of drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. President Obama’s action used the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act which allows presidents to withdraw land from potential leasing. Obama’s previous actions to protect federal land from drilling were done as executive actions, meaning that a future president could just as easily reverse the order. However using the Act will make it significantly harder, if not impossible, for a future president to change.
The White House said that the “vast majority” of the American sections of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas as indefinitely off-limits. Canada is declaring all of its Arctic waters off-limits, although the ban will be reviewed every five years. The White House also proclaimed thirty-one Atlantic canyons, 3.8 million acres in all, off-limits.
When the Act is used to withdraw lands, an expiration date is typically included. However, President Obama did not include an expiration date, causing it to go on indefinitely.
Environmentalist groups were thrilled with the decision. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement, “The Sierra Club applauds President Obama for taking historical action by answering the calls of coastal communities and millions of people across the country for our oceans to be permanently protected from the threat of offshore drilling. America’s waters are for all of us to enjoy, and they should never be threatened — especially by oil rigs.”
“President Obama continues to build a climate legacy without equal, and we look forward to continuing to work with him as he cements his legacy protecting our waters and our wild and iconic public lands.”
The oil industry blasted the move on Tuesday, however. Dan Naatz, senior vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (an industry group representing oil and gas producers), said in a statement, “We are extremely disappointed in President Obama’s eleventh hour decision to shut down economic development and lock away America’s true energy potential for communities that need it most – and the real jobs, royalty dollars, and national energy security that come along with it.”
“We disagree with this last-minute political rhetoric coming from the Obama Administration and contest this decision by the outgoing administration as disingenuous. With exactly one month left in office, President Obama chose to succumb to environmental extremists demands to keep our nation’s affordable and abundant energy supplies away from those who need it the most by keeping them in the ground.”
Naatz also invoked the incoming Trump Administration, an impending move that was on the minds of Administration officials and their decision to go a more permanent route, “IPAA looks forward to working with the Trump Administration on new job-creating solutions that will balance thoughtful, environmental protections with safe, responsible energy production and the tremendous economic and consumer benefits that come along with it.”