Obama and Trudeau move to stop offshore oil drilling in the Arctic

Obama Said to Use 1953 Law to Restrict Offshore Oil Drilling  Bloomberg, by 

Jennifer A Dlouhy and Josh Wingrove   December 21, 2016, 
  • Move to permanently protect parts of Atlantic, Arctic
  • Canada to join in coordinated announcement of restrictions

President Barack Obama is preparing to block the sale of new offshore drilling rights in most of the U.S. Arctic and parts of the Atlantic, a move that could indefinitely restrict oil production there, according to people familiar with the decision.

Obama will invoke a provision in a 1953 law that gives him wide latitude to withdraw U.S. waters from future oil and gas leasing, said the people who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been announced. Until now the law has been used mostly to permanently preserve coral reefs, walrus feeding grounds and marine sanctuaries.

Related actions by Canada, including a possible five-year pause on some activity in its share of the Beaufort Sea north of Canada’s Northwest Territories, will be announced at the same time as the U.S. action, the people said.

“If the reports are right, then this is a gift to the public and to our kids that will rank with any in the history of American conservation,” said Niel Lawrence, Alaska director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Coming in the waning days of his administration, Obama’s move — set to be announced Tuesday — responds to a clamor from environmental activists who have looked for a way to lock in protections before President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

Read more: Offshore Drilling Foes Invoke 1953 Law to Prod Obama

Environmentalists said the action would further bolster Obama’s legacy as the president who has done more than any other to combat climate change, because it would illustrate he believes the warming Earth can’t afford the oil and gas locked under the Arctic and Atlantic waters targeted for protection.

“If President Obama acts to permanently protect important areas of the Atlantic Ocean from offshore drilling, he will be making a good decision — a smart business decision — based on science and facts,” said Jacqueline Savitz, a senior vice president with the conservation group Oceana. “This decision would help to protect existing lucrative coastal tourism and fishing businesses from offshore drilling, which promises smaller, short-lived returns and threatens coastal livelihoods.”………

Trudeau Pledge

The U.S. move is expected to be paired with action from Canada, following a March pledge by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Obama to collaborate in managing the Arctic, including taking unspecified “concrete steps” to protect at least 10 percent of its water.

Although some oil companies hold exploration rights in Canada’s Beaufort waters, no drilling is currently taking place. Activity there is now stalled or uneconomical, said Michael Byers, a University of British Columbia professor.

Obama’s decision takes advantage of oil and gas companies’ relatively lackluster interest in Arctic waters, where exploration costs are high and development can take a decade or more. Oil companies spent more than $2.5 billion nabbing drilling rights in the region, but relinquished many of those claims as low crude prices forced them to cut spending…..

Environmentalists have been laying the groundwork for Obama’s decision by circulating memos on the legal strategy and highlighting how oil spills could devastate wildlife in the Arctic and tourism on the U.S. East Coast.

“The Trump administration has the potential to do serious damage to our climate — but in the last few months of his presidency, President Obama can take concrete steps to secure his environmental legacy,” NextGen Climate President Tom Steyer said in a recent letter.  https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-12-19/obama-said-to-use-1953-law-to-block-drilling-in-arctic-atlantic

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