Obama Strikes New Offshore Drilling in Alaska, Arctic Waters

Obama Strikes New Offshore Drilling in Alaska, Arctic Waters
Industry supporters say eleventh hour move by Obama Administration could be undone by President-elect Donald Trump, but it won't be easy.

With precisely one month left in his White House tenure, President Barack Obama provoked the ire of the offshore oil and gas industry with a ban on new offshore drilling on hundreds of millions of federal acres in the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean.

In a statement, the Obama Administration cited a March agreement with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “to embrace opportunities and confront challenges in the changing Arctic, with Indigenous and Northern partnerships, and responsible, science-based leadership” as the genesis of the plan. The ban itself – implemented in coordination with Trudeau – relies on the relatively obscure 1953 law called the “Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act,” (OCS) in Section 12(a) of the Antiquities Act.

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

Although an unnamed White House aide told the Washington Post the ban cannot be undone by an incoming president, others noted Obama’s own language described the ban’s lifetime as indefinite, not permanent.

“The Trump [Administration] can repeal this withdrawal with the stroke of a pen,” said Christopher Guith, senior vice president for policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for 21st Century Energy. “Congress can also take action but it has a pretty full dance card. And I’m quite sure this unlawful action will get challenged in court.”

Congress, which reconvenes with a decidedly Republican majority Jan. 3, may have the authority to revoke the ban, but it won’t be easy. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, had long fought for Antiquities Act reform. He said Tuesday that action on the new ban would be competing with replacing Obamacare, revamping the tax code and work on the new president’s infrastructure plan.

In 2008, President George W. Bush opened all OCS lands to leasing with the exception of marine sanctuaries, Bishop noted. The code permits a president to withdraw OCS lands from leasing consideration, but it doesn’t stipulate whether the withdrawals are permanent, he said.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has challenged the Antiquities Act in Congress since 2003. Source: House Committee on Natural Resources

Bishop said Obama’s White House fails to grasp the importance of offshore drilling in the United States and its role in insulating the country from the whims of OPEC.

“The extremes to which this president will go to appease special interests never ceases to amaze. This is not a moral calling, it’s an abuse of power. Scratch below the façade of pragmatism and it is nothing more than ideological chest-thumping from the president for the far left,” Bishop said in a statement. “This naïve and unprecedented executive action undercuts our competitiveness and threatens regional economies across the country.”

Other reaction to the ban was also swift.

The Arctic Energy Center’s spokesman Lucas Frances fired off a statement to reporters accusing the president of “playing politics” in the Arctic.

“The Arctic Energy Center’s research has shown that a significant majority of Native and Alaskan people support offshore energy development in the Arctic, in a large measure because of the essential role the industry plays in the region’s economy,” Frances said. “By designating Arctic waters off limits for energy development, the President has prioritized environmental concerns over the well-being of the American people.”

At the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), Dan Naatz, senior vice president of government relations and political affairs, said the “eleventh hour decision” flies in the face of what data shows: that oil and gas demand will grow beyond 2040.

“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,” Naatz said in a statement. “We disagree with this last-minute political rhetoric coming from the Obama Administration and contest this decision by the outgoing administration as disingenuous.”

On the other side of the issue, Friends of the Earth (FOE) said the move is a major victory for oceans and the climate, and hinted the Gulf of Mexico may be the next site of a drilling ban.

“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,” FOE climate campaigner Marissa Knodel said in a statement. “We must afford the same protections to the people of the Gulf of Mexico, which has become an energy sacrifice zone.”


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