Obama declares swaths of Arctic off limits


WASHINGTON, DC, December 21, 2016 – Outgoing US President Barack Obama late on Tuesday moved to protect vast swaths of offshore Arctic acreage from future oil and gas drilling.

Obama’s efforts centred on the Arctic sections of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, as well as several Atlantic canyons along the eastern seaboard. The latter move, which withdraws more than 16,000 square kilometres from new drilling, complements the five-year moratorium on oil and gas operations in the Atlantic.

Obama’s action fall under Section 12(a) of the little-known 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which enables a president in office to “from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer continental shelf.” Obama previously invoked the act to help protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay and its Arctic coast.


Tuesday’s announcement was co-ordinated with Canada, which took parallel actions as part of ongoing efforts to develop its new Arctic Policy Framework. Commenting on the joint effort, the White House said the measures “reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited.”

While conservations groups rejoiced, the American Petroleum Institute put out a statement saying the move “ignores congressional intent, our national security, and vital, good-paying job opportunities for our shipyards, unions, and businesses of all types across the country.”

Shell drilled a well on its lease in the Chukchi Sea in 2015, but in September of that year decided to abandon its Arctic drilling plans. It also holds 13 leases in the Beaufort Sea through a joint venture with Eni and Repsol.

As President-elect Donald Trump options to rescind Obama’s order appear limited on account the statute not including a reversal provision, the Republican’s in control of the legislature could decide to work their way through the courts in an effort to overturn the decision.