Obama Permanently Bans Oil And Gas Drilling In Arctic And Atlantic


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Thanks Obama. Evan El-Amin/Shutterstock

When it comes to the environment, President Obama is clearly determined to not go quietly into the night and let the incoming administration undo his legacy. As reported by the Washington Post, he has just “permanently” banned oil and gas drilling in much of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

About 1.2 million square kilometers (about 463,300 square miles) of pristine, biodiverse, ecologically sensitive marine territory will be protected by this measure, including 98 percent of all Arctic waters. The majority of the eastern seaboard is now officially off limits to fossil fuel extraction measures.


At the same time, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took similar steps to protect the Canadian Arctic from offshore oil and gas extraction. There will be no new leases allowed in the region, subject to a five-year scientifically-led review.

In a statement, the White House declared that the two leaders are showing “science-based” leadership. It goes on to note that the two nations “are proud to launch actions ensuring a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem… free from the future risks of offshore oil and gas activity.” 

Obama had recently announced a five-year ban on granting new leases in parts of the Arctic, but this new executive action is rather novel in a legal sense, and may be far more difficult for Trump and his Four Horsemen of the Climate Apocalypse to undo.

His actions this time stem from an arcane 1953 law named the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Enacting it allows the president to act unilaterally and to “withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the Outer Continental Shelf.” The statute makes no mention of any future president being able to overturn such withdrawals, and Obama’s legal experts are claiming this ban will be “indefinite.”


Various Republican lawmakers and fossil fuel industry insiders, unsurprisingly, disagree, and hope that President-elect Trump will do all he can to rescind the executive action once he’s at home in the White House. Some vented on Twitter, with ultraconservative Senator and melting wax candle Ted Cruz barely containing his excitement at the thought of Trump “taking away Obama’s pen and phone.”

It’s worth pointing out, though, that whenever previous presidents have used the 1953 law to protect federal lands in one form of another, those actions were never repealed and remain in place today. By miring Trump in as much legal difficulty as possible, there is a chance that far less of Obama’s environmental legacy will be undone over the next four years.

Besides, far more than policy and even the overarching Paris agreement, market forces will ensure that any attempt to bring back coal or oil extraction will be economically catastrophic for the new administration.

Renewables are proliferating all across the world, and in many places, they are the cheapest and most cost-effective form of energy investment. Even fossil fuel groups like Shell are beginning to stop investing in offshore drilling because the risks – in terms of the operation costs and the environmental damage – are too high.


Perhaps most strikingly, Trump’s administration wants to prevent the carbon-cutting, Obama-led Clear Power Act from ever coming into force, but recent research revealed that it’s already ahead of schedule on it targets.


Lest we forget, of course, a bunch of kids have just been granted permission to sue Trump’s federal government for not doing enough on climate change. If they win, climate change mitigation will be part of the US legal framework.

It may seem like all they’ve got is hope – but then again, rebellions are built on hope, no?


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