President Obama Has Banned All Offshore Oil Drilling In Arctic


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

An offshore oil drilling rig. iurii/Shutterstock

With dark forces marshaling to move into the White House and tear apart Obama’s environmental legacy, he’s making sure that in the last few weeks of his Presidency that he can do all he can to protect it. His latest announcement is a rather substantial one – he has effectively banned offshore oil drilling in the ecologically sensitive Arctic until at least 2022.

The five-year-long program prevents any companies from extracting oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and puts a hold on any drilling expansion in the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans. Drilling will still be permitted in parts of the Gulf of Mexico, which means that this locale will be the only place that the US is significantly engaging in oil exploration.


“Given the unique and challenging Arctic environment and industry’s declining interest in the area, forgoing lease sales in the Arctic is the right path forward,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

This is a huge win for environmentalists, but it even makes sense on a purely economic level. Oil prices are in decline and renewable energy is becoming far cheaper. Market forces, let alone policy, will ensure that the future relies less on fossil fuels and more on low-carbon energy sources.

Under Obama, generally due to fluctuating market prices, oil production has risen, even as imports from other nations have fallen sharply. Reducing oil consumption is a key part of Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), and this new action is partly designed to fulfill that target.

However, the CPP has been stayed by the Supreme Court, and it is likely to be abandoned under the incoming Trump administration. Many at this point are therefore greeting this new news with pessimism. After all, won’t Trump simply scrap the new offshore drilling restrictions too?


Well, he might want to, but it may be more difficult to achieve than he thinks.

Obama’s rescinding of permission for any more offshore drilling took effect immediately. Any reversal cannot legally be achieved straight away, and would likely take several years to unwind. Additionally, if the price of oil continues to remain at record-low values, then the industry simply doesn’t have an economic incentive to want to drill in the Arctic.

As for the CPP, it may not actually be active, but it’s already met its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2024 and curbing coal use by 2030. This is all thanks, again, to market forces determining that fossil fuels are on their way out and low-carbon energy sources are in.

If Trump continues to attempt to swim against this tide, he’ll find that it’ll cost the US far more than it does today.


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