The outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama has withdrawn millions of acres in the Arctic and the Atlantic Ocean from future oil and gas activity.
Together with Obama, Canada’s Prime minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would designate all Arctic Canadian waters as indefinitely off limits to future offshore Arctic oil and gas licensing.
Obama used a 1950s-era law called the Outer Continental Shelf Act that allows presidents to limit areas from mineral leasing and drilling. Environmental groups said that meant Trump's incoming administration would have to go court if it sought to reverse the move.
The ban affects 115 million acres (46.5 million hectares) of federal Arctic waters off Alaska in the Chukchi Sea and most of the Beaufort Sea and 3.8 million acres (1.5 million hectares) in the Atlantic from New England to Chesapeake Bay.
Trump, who succeeds Obama on Jan. 20, has said he would expand offshore oil and gas drilling. A recent memo from his energy transition team said his policy could increase production in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, as well as the mid- and south Atlantic.
Including previous presidential withdrawals, the action makes nearly 125 million acres in the offshore Arctic unavailable for oil and gas exploration.
In the Atlantic, the withdrawal decision applies to 31 canyons, extending from Heezen Canyon offshore New England to Norfolk Canyon offshore of the Chesapeake Bay. The largest, Hudson Canyon, reaches depths greater than 10,000 feet, comparable in scale to the Grand Canyon, which is 6,093 feet at its deepest.
The U.S. administration said the move would protect “fragile ecosystems and build resilience in the face of climate change.”
“Risks associated with oil and gas activity in the remote, harsh and undeveloped Arctic are not worth taking when the nation has ample energy sources near existing infrastructure,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, the Director of U.S. Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. “Oil spill response and clean-up raises unique challenges in the Arctic and a spill could have substantial impacts on the region, particularly given the ecosystem fragility and limited available resources to respond to a spill.”
The withdrawal does not affect existing leases in these federal offshore waters and would not affect a nearshore area of the Beaufort Sea, totaling about 2.8 million acres, that has high oil and gas potential and is adjacent to existing state oil and gas activity and infrastructure, U.S. Department of Interior said.