Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Obama Orders Closure of Oil Leases

President Obama has withdrawn offshore areas of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans from future oil and gas extraction to protect these ecologically sensitive marine environments from the potential impact of such activities. In the Arctic Ocean alone the withdrawal encompasses 3.8 million acres offshore.

The announcement from the White House was coordinated with similar action by Canadian Prime Minister to protect Canada’s Arctic waters from potential adverse impact of drilling activities.

While the announcement was applauded by various national environmental groups and criticized by Alaska’s congressional delegation, it is not expected to have any immediate impact on commercial fisheries in the Alaska Arctic.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council back in 2009 moved to prohibit most commercial fishing in that area of the Arctic until such time as research provides a better understanding of how such mineral extraction efforts would impact the marine habitat.

The president used the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to protect major areas of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic, as well as areas of the Atlantic Ocean from new offshore oil and gas exploration. The announcement does not affect existing leases in these federal offshore waters and would not affect nearshore areas of the Beaufort Sea, totaling about 2.8 million areas that has high oil and gas potential and is adjacent to existing state oil and gas activity and infrastructure. Canada’s measures likewise would not affect existing leases.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said that while there are concerns regarding oil and gas activity in this area it is subject to additional evaluation and study to determine if new leasing could be appropriate at some point in the future. Interior’s five-year offshore leasing program for 2017-2022 does not include lease sales in this area or the withdrawn areas.

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