Obama Shuts Down Large Areas of Atlantic Shelf and Arctic Ocean to Oil/Gas Exploration

In a Tuesday proclamation, President Obama permanently withheld 98% of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas from future oil and gas leases, the area encompasses 115 million acres. Image-BEOM
In a Tuesday proclamation, President Obama permanently withheld 98% of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas from future oil and gas leases, the area encompasses 115 million acres. Image-BEOM


In one of his final moves in the waning days of his presidency, President Obama designated huge swathes of seas off of the coast of the Atlantic seaboard and the Arctic Ocean off limits to off-shore oil and gas lease sales.

While in-coming president, Donald Trump has vowed while on the campaign trail to open up the nation’s energy reserves, President Obama utilized a 1953 law to ban leases permanently in the outer continental shelf waters. It is widely believed that the move to ban those waters from oil and gas development will withstand efforts from future commanders-in-chief to reverse, as the 1953 statute provides no authority for presidents to undo permanent withdrawals.

While many on the east coast of the U.S. were hoping for more off-shore areas to be closed to oil and gas leases, Obama shut down 31 undersea canyons from the oil industries.

Leases currently in existence will not be affected by President Obama’s Tuesday decision.

In a statement released by the White House, the ban was initiated “due to the important, irreplaceable values of its Arctic waters for Indigenous, Alaska Native and local communities’ subsistence and cultures, wildlife and wildlife habitat, and scientific research; the vulnerability of these ecosystems to an oil spill; and the unique logistical, operational, safety, and scientific challenges and risks of oil extraction and spill response in Arctic waters – the United States is designating the vast majority of U.S. waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas as indefinitely off limits to offshore oil and gas leasing.”[xyz-ihs snippet=”Adsense-responsive”]Canada followed suit and designated all Arctic Canadian waters off-limits to oil and gas exploration as well.

The announcement came after the creation of the “Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area” in what he said was a direct response from over 80 tribes asking for protection of cultural and subsistence resources.

The oil industry called President Obama’s proclamation as “Last minute political rhetoric.”

Dan Naatz of the Independent Petroleum Association of AZmerica said in response to Obama’s proclamation, “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.”

On the other side of the issue, Jacqueline Savitz, the senior vice president of Ociana, said, “This decision will help protect existing lucrative coastal tourism and fishing businesses from offshore drilling, which promises smaller, short-lived returns and threatens coastal livelihoods.”

In Alaska, Governor Walker responded to the proclamation saying: 

“This unprecedented move marginalizes the voices of those who call the Arctic home and have asked for responsible resource development to lower the cost of energy to heat houses and businesses.

For centuries, the Arctic has provided food for those in the region. No one is more invested than Alaskans to ensure that the habitats within the Arctic are protected. To lock it up against any further exploration or development activity is akin to saying that the voices of activists who live in Lower 48 cities have a greater stake than those to whom the Arctic is our front yard and our back yard. 

During my phone call with Secretary Sally Jewell earlier today, she acknowledged that she and her team at the U.S. Department of the Interior took into consideration the requests that Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack and I made during multiple meetings with her in Washington, D.C., and in Fairbanks. We highlighted the areas of the Arctic most likely to provide revenue to the state. These efforts are reflected in that those regions were not included in the administration’s final decision. However, this concession is not satisfactory because the administration has already failed to include these same areas in its most recent five-year leasing plan.”

Alaska’s delegation to Washington slammed Obama for his decision on Tuesday, saying the withdrawal disrespects Alaskans and is not based on sound science. All three delegates, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Representative Don Young made statements in response to the ban.

“The only thing more shocking than this reckless, short-sighted, last-minute gift to the extreme environmental agenda is that President Obama had the nerve to claim he is doing Alaska a favor,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “For him to suggest to the people of the Arctic that they must rely on a nonexistent government working group and $9 million a year in charity as a substitute for real economic opportunity is a slap in the face to countless Alaskans. President Obama has once again treated the Arctic like a snow globe, ignoring the desires of the people who live, work, and raise a family there. I cannot wait to work with the next administration to reverse this decision.”

“This announcement by the Obama Administration is an affront to our representative democracy,” said Senator Sullivan. “Make no mistake – the President betrayed Alaskans today – especially those living in the Arctic – who were not consulted, and instead gave one final Christmas gift to coastal environmental elites. This decision is not about environmental protection or the economics of oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. This is hopefully the last act of a callous presidency, one that lacks any regard for America’s economic future and the hardworking families of Alaska. Presiding over a lost decade of economic growth for America, Obama’s legacy will not be one of transparency and inclusion of affected stakeholders, but instead one of executive overreach at the command of extreme special interests with agendas far removed from and unsympathetic to middle-class Alaskan families and other hardworking Americans.”

“Hell-bent on locking away our resources and suffocating our already weakened economy, President Obama is one step closer to solidifying his place next to Jimmy Carter as Alaska’s worst nightmare,” said Congressman Don Young. “Frankly, this is a cowardly move by a lame duck President – eight years to take this action, yet it comes at the 11th hour with little to no support from Alaskans. I’ve been adamant with this administration; Alaska is not and should not be used as the poster child for a pandering environmental agenda. This decision only strengthens our resolve – as a resources oriented state – to overturn the heavy hand of government and empower our people and communities with new social and economic opportunities. The groundwork is already being laid to overturn this terrible decision.”

It is believed that the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas hold approximately 23.6 billion barrels of oil and 104.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.[xyz-ihs snippet=”Adsense-responsive”]