Obama bans new oil, gas drilling off Alaska, part of Atlantic coast


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday banned new oil and gas drilling in federal waters in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, in a push to leave his stamp on the environment before Republican Donald Trump takes office next month.

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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 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.

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U.S. President Barack Obama signs the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 into law at the U.S. Department of Interior in Washington, December 22, 2010. From L-R are (standing): Vice President Joseph Biden, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen, former U.S. Navy Commander Zoe Dunning, former USMC StaffSgt. Eric Alva, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa), Rep. Susan Davis (D-Ca), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY IMAGES OF THE DAY)

U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) and Vice President Joe Biden (L), along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Also pictured are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2nd R) and Defense Secretary Robert Gates (R). In the decade since the Sept. 11 2001 attacks, U.S. Special Operations Command personnel numbers have doubled, its budget tripled and deployments quadrupled. The Bin Laden takedown is simply the tip of an iceberg of fast-growing, largely hidden action by the United States and its allies. Those with knowledge of such operations say this changing state of warfare could spark a range of unintended consequences, from jeopardizing diplomatic relationships to unwanted, wider wars. Please note: A classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured at source. Picture taken May 1, 2011. To match Analysis CONFLICT/COVERTOPS REUTERS/White House/Pete Souza/Handout/Files (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

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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.

A Trump representative did not immediately comment on the announcement.

Even if Trump tries to fight the move, few energy companies have expressed a desire to drill anytime soon off the coasts thanks to abundant cheap shale oil in North Dakota and Texas.

Exploratory drilling in the Arctic is expensive and risky. Shell Oil ended its quest to explore in harsh Arctic waters in 2015, after a vessel it was using suffered a gash and environmentalists uncovered a law that limited its drilling.

The American Petroleum Institute oil industry group disagreed about the permanence of the ban and said Trump could likely use a presidential memorandum to lift it.

“We are hopeful the incoming administration will reverse this decision as the nation continues to need a robust strategy for developing offshore and onshore energy,” said Erik Milito, API’s upstream director.


The White House and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau jointly announced their move to launch “actions ensuring a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem.”

Obama said in a statement that the joint actions “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.”

Canada will designate all Arctic Canadian waters as indefinitely off limits to future offshore Arctic oil and gas licensing, to be reviewed every five years through a climate and marine science-based life-cycle assessment.

The law under which Obama is acting enables a president to withdraw certain areas from leasing or drilling “for any public purpose,” such as to limit the impacts of climate change, according to a legal briefing by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earth Justice.

Under that law, a president is not authorized to “undo” a previous withdrawal, making it more difficult for Trump to target without a lawsuit.

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“No president has ever tried to undo a permanent withdrawal of an ocean area from leasing eligibility,” said Niel Lawrence, Alaska director and attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The provision has been used by six presidents from both parties over the past 65 years, including to withdraw as much as several hundred million acres at a time, he said.


In 2015, just 0.1 percent of U.S. federal offshore crude production came from the Arctic. At current oil prices, significant production in the Arctic will not occur, according to a Department of Interior analysis.

There is currently no crude oil production in the Canadian Arctic. A number of companies including Chevron Corp, ConocoPhillips and Imperial Oil hold exploration licenses, but all three have put their drilling plans on hold, partly because of weak global oil prices.

On the U.S. Atlantic coast, local groups have opposed offshore drilling and would fight the Trump administration’s attempts to open it up.

“The people of the Atlantic coast have refused to allow their way of life to be compromised,” said Jacqueline Savitz, senior vice president of Florida-based ocean conservancy group Oceana.

She said the Obama administration move to protect the Atlantic coast was a “smart business decision” since it would protect the lucrative tourism and fishing industries of East Coast communities.

RELATED: The Obamas cutest moments:

Click through this gallery to see more of President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama

(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

1. Secret Service agents avert their eyes as the Obamas share a private moment on Inauguration Day 2009.

Photo courtesy: White House

2. Dancing at the White House during the Governors Ball in February 2009.

Photo courtesy: White House / Pete Souza

3. Holding hands while heading to Camp David for the first time in March 2009.

Photo courtesy: White House / Pete Souza

4. In the White House’s Red Room with adviser Valerie Jarrett in March 2009.

Photo courtesy: White House / Pete Souza

5. Watching fireworks on the roof of the White House on July 4, 2009.

Photo courtesy: White House / Pete Souza

6. ​Posing for their first holiday portrait at the White House.

Photo courtesy: White House / Pete Souza

7. ​Sharing a kiss after the State of the Union address in 2010.

Photo courtesy: White House / Pete Souza

8. ​President Obama chats with Michelle as they walk the White House Colonnade in Sept. 2010.

Photo courtesy: White House

9. The Obamas visit the Flight 93 crash site on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Photo courtesy: White House / Pete Souza

10. ​Barack whispers something to Michelle during a break between events at the 2011 UN General Assembly.

Photo courtesy: White House / Pete Souza

11. Obama jokes with Michelle after she says Dr. Jill Biden is her “favorite person in the room.”

Photo courtesy: White House / Pete Souza

12. ​The First Couple shares a private dance before a May 2012 concert at the White House.

Photo courtesy: White House / Pete Souza

13. ​The First Lady greets Barack Obama on the tarmac at JFK in June 2012.

Photo courtesy: White House

14. ​The Obamas look out over their hometown skyline in Chicago on June 15, 2012.

Photo courtesy: White House

15. ​At Valerie Jarrett’s daughter’s Chicago wedding in June 2012.

Photo courtesy: White House / Pete Souza

16. ​The First Couple smooches for the KissCam during a timeout at an Olympic basketball exhibition game in 2012.

Photo courtesy: White House / Pete Souza

17. The Obamas made history with this August 2012 hug — this became the most tweeted photo of all time after Obama sent it out to his followers on election night.

Photo courtesy: White House / Pete Souza

18. ​Barack gives Michelle a kiss during the inaugural parade.

(Photo: AP)

19. ​The Obamas giggle as they ride in the inaugural parade in Washington, D.C., Jan. 21, 2013.

Photo courtesy: White House / Pete Souza

20. Barack and Michelle as they share their first dance during the Commander-In-Chief’s Ball on Inauguration Day 2013.

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

21. ​The President sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to Michelle in the Blue Room of the White House. The First Lady’s new hairstyle attracted a lot of attention from this photo.

Photo: The White House / Pete Souza

22. ​The Obamas arrive for an official dinner at the Presidential Palace in Dakar, Senegal, June 27, 2013.

Photo courtesy: The White House

23. Barack Obama waves as he and Michelle arrive for a reception for the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors recipients.

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

24. Barack kisses Michelle as he takes the stage to speak about college education with representatives of colleges, universities and philanthropic groups. His speech was focused on getting more low-income students to attend college.

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

25. ​The Obamas and their pets Sunny and Bo, wait to greet visitors in the Blue Room during a White House tour.

Photo courtesy: The White House / Pete Souza

26. In this 2014 photo, Mrs. Obama reacts while her husband confesses what their favorite junk foods are to children attending the Kids State Dinner. The first lady likes french fries and the president likes chips and guacamole.

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

27. ​The Obamas hold hands during the event to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches on March 7, 2015.

Photo courtesy: White House / Pete Souza

28. The Obamas pose for a “Gimme Five” initiative photo in the East Room of the White House during the annual Easter Egg Roll, on April 6, 2015.

Photo courtesy: White House

29. The first lady snuggled against the president during a video taping for the 2015 World Expo in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on March 27, 2015.

Photo courtesy: White House

30. ​The Obamas react to a child in a pope costume and mini popemobile as they welcomed children during a Halloween event on the South Lawn of the White House.

Photo courtesy: White House

31. The Obamas arrive at the Kennedy Center Honors Reception at the White House in Washington December 6, 2015.

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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