President Obama is set to block the sale of new offshore drilling rights in a large part of the U.S. Arctic and parts of the Atlantic.
The U.S. Arctic is estimated to hold 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
This enormous decision could restrict oil production in these areas indefinitely.
According to anonymous sources, Obama is looking to invoke a part of a 1953 law that gives would give him the ability to withdraw U.S. waters from future oil and gas leasing.
Previously Obama invoked the law to permanently preserve coral reefs, walrus feeding grounds and marine sanctuaries. He withdrew three areas from future oil and gas leasing for more discrete, local concerns, including ecologically rich areas of Alaska’s Bristol Bay, part of the Chukchi Sea, and, earlier this month, Bering Sea waters for which Alaska Natives had sought protection.
As Obama’s administration comes to an end, he looks to lock in certain environmental protections prior to President-elect Trump taking office.
According to environmentalists, this measure would, ” bolster Obama’s legacy as the president who has done more than any other to combat climate change, because it would illustrate he believes the warming Earth can’t afford the oil and gas locked under the Arctic and Atlantic waters targeted for protection.”
Greenpeace spokesman, Travis Nichols, said, “If true, millions of people around the world will be grateful to President Obama for permanently protecting the Arctic and the Atlantic coasts from catastrophic oil exploration and development.”
“If the reports are right, then this is a gift to the public and to our kids that will rank with any in the history of American conservation,” said Niel Lawrence, Alaska director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“I see no evidence that Congress ever intended for these withdrawals to be reversible; courts should respect that,” Lawrence said.
While, Obama had already ruled out selling any new leases in the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific from 2017 to 2022, this decision is far more permanent.
The U.S. move is expected to be paired with a pledge from Canada to take on similar sanctions to prevent drilling.
While oil companies have struggled to tap resources at the northern hemisphere of the globe, industry leaders say the reserves will be needed to meet future demands. The American Petroleum Institute has called the idea of permanently withdrawing offshore waters “incredibly short-sighted.”
Lucas Frances, spokesperson for the oil industry-supported 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. If reports are true, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Obama administration is playing politics with the future of Alaska.”
A White House spokesman declined to comment.
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