The Obama Administration has announced that it will ban offshore energy development throughout much of the U.S. Arctic. Under the authority of a provision in a 1953 law, the decision designates 115 million acres of the U.S. Arctic, including the entire Chukchi Sea, off limits to oil and gas activity.
Canada also decided against Arctic drilling on Tuesday. In a joint statement released by the White House, Canada announced the measure will be reviewed every five years "through a climate and marine science-based life-cycle assessment."
"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.
Commenting, General Joseph Ralston, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Europe and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: “I am deeply concerned by today’s announcement taking steps to permanently remove Arctic waters from potential development through executive action. Not only does today’s move run counter to our national security interests in the region, it significantly sets back our ability to encourage responsible economic development and infrastructure, as well as our military’s ability to leverage these assets to project presence in the Arctic.
“The reality is that as Arctic ice continues to recede, military, commercial and human activity by friends and potential foes alike is already underway and will only increase. U.S. leadership in the Arctic requires participation and cooperation on all fronts. Without the prospect for commercial investment, our nation’s ability to lead and engage on Arctic issues is diminished. Today’s decision represents yet another strategic withdrawal from the Arctic by the Obama Administration.”
Lucas Frances, spokesman for the Arctic Energy Center, said: “The Administration has always justified a ban on Arctic development because of an alleged lack of local support or industry interest. The Arctic Energy Center’s research categorically shows that that is simply not true, with almost three quarters of Native respondents supporting offshore energy. Taken with last week’s news that sales of Beaufort Sea and North Slope leases generated $18 million, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Obama Administration is playing politics with the future of Alaska.”
National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi said: “President Obama’s short sighted, unilateral withdrawal of Atlantic and Arctic Ocean areas from future oil and gas leasing not only risks the long-term energy security and energy leadership position of the United States, it violates the letter and spirit of the law. Such an expansive withdrawal, particularly when argued as being ’permanent’, is clearly inconsistent with the Outer Continental Shelf Land Act’s steadfast declaration that ‘... the Outer Continental Shelf is a vital national resource reserve held by the Federal Government for the public, which should be made available for expeditious and orderly development, subject to environmental safeguards, in a manner which is consistent with the maintenance of competition and other national needs ...’”
The administration’s decision to remove key Arctic and Atlantic offshore areas from future leasing consideration ignores congressional intent, our national security, and vital, good-paying job opportunities for our shipyards, unions and businesses of all types across the country, according to API Upstream Director Erik Milito.
“Our national security depends on our ability to produce oil and natural gas here in the United States,” said Milito. “This proposal would take us in the wrong direction just as we have become world leader in production and refining of oil and natural gas and in reduction of carbon emissions. Blocking offshore exploration weakens our national security, destroys good-paying jobs and could make energy less affordable for consumers. Fortunately, there is no such thing as a permanent ban, and we look forward to working with the new administration on fulfilling the will of American voters on energy production.”
However, Obama has his supporters. Friends of the Earth Climate Campaigner Marissa Knodel said: “Today’s announcement is a major victory for our oceans and climate. Our offshore areas need permanent protection in the face of Donald Trump’s pledge to expand offshore drilling and his cabinet’s ties to Big Oil. We must afford the same protections to the people of the Gulf of Mexico, which has become an energy sacrifice zone.
“Donald Trump’s actions since the election have made clear that he will put Big Oil’s profits above Americans’ public health. No president has ever rescinded a previous president’s permanent withdrawal of offshore areas from oil and gas development. If Donald Trump tries to reverse President Obama’s withdrawals, he will find himself in court.”
Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: “This is a historic victory in our fight to save our Arctic and Atlantic waters, marine life, coastal communities and all they support.
“President Obama used a law employed by multiple presidents to establish these essential protections. There has never been a more important time or more fragile ecosystems for this type of presidential action.
“Today’s bold bi-lateral announcement between Canada and the United States shows North America is leading the world in preserving the Arctic for future generations. President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau have created an indelible legacy as true stewards of the most fragile and threatened ecosystem in the world, and we urge the other Arctic leaders to follow suit.”
WWF U.S. President and CEO Carter Roberts said “This is a remarkable moment of U.S.-Canadian leadership in protecting our shared resources. After years of engagement in the Arctic, President Obama has secured more than 500,000 square kilometres of ocean in one of the most magnificent regions on Earth – home to the culture and tradition of our indigenous communities, as well as walrus, whales and seascapes unique in all the world. We applaud this bold decision.
“It underscores our nation's inevitable transition to cleaner energy and signals that some places are just too important not to protect. And with our neighbors, will inspire the world to do likewise. This action continues a long tradition, starting with Lincoln and Roosevelt, of presidents conserving the best parts of America. This is a big deal – a defining part of our country that’s just as important as Yosemite and Yellowstone.”