Energy & Environment

Obama rescinds Arctic offshore drilling proposal

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President Obama has rescinded a proposal to allow new oil and natural gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean as part of a five-year plan for leasing released on Friday.

Obama’s move takes drilling rights sales off the table through 2022.

The Interior Department had previously proposed limited drilling rights sales to the Beaufort and Chukchi seas north of Alaska, where there has never been oil and natural gas production from traditional mobile drilling rigs.

{mosads}But officials, citing environmental concerns and low industry interest, rescinded that proposal on Friday in releasing the new plan.

The decision all but bans Arctic drilling for that time period, since oil companies have let almost all of their leases in the Arctic expire or have surrendered them.

It’s a major win for environmentalists, Alaska Natives and others who feared the environmental consequences of opening the frigid, unforgiving Arctic waters to drilling, especially in the case of a spill.

President-elect Donald Trump could seek to amend the five-year drilling plan to add more sales. But he would have to go through a long regulatory process to do so, potentially taking years, and could encounter problems like President George W. Bush did when he attempted a similar strategy.

Trump pledged during the campaign to open vast areas of public land and water to fossil fuel production that had not been allowed before.

Since the plan is being released late in Obama’s time in office, congressional Republicans could try legislatively to overturn the plan or open the Arctic or Atlantic to drilling.

The oil industry and its allies have pushed Obama to keep Arctic drilling on the table and let market forces decide if drilling should happen in the Arctic seas.

“Given the unique and challenging Arctic environment and industry’s declining interest in the area, foregoing lease sales in the Arctic is the right path forward,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement.

The final version of the five-year offshore leasing plan released Friday allows up to 10 drilling rights sales in the Gulf of Mexico, the country’s main offshore drilling areas, and up to one plan in the Cook Inlet in south-central Alaska.

“The plan focuses lease sales in the best places — those with the highest resource potential, lowest conflict, and established infrastructure — and removes regions that are simply not right to lease,” Jewell said.

“The proposal makes available more than 70 percent of the economically recoverable resources, which is ample opportunity for oil and gas development to meet the nation’s energy needs,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, director of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Obama in March took Atlantic Ocean drilling out of consideration, after floating a small set of drilling rights sales off the coasts of an area between Virginia and Georgia.

Despite the possibility of the plan being overturned, Democrats and greens cheered Obama’s decision. 
“I appreciate that the Interior Department considered the greater risk posed while operating in dynamic and challenging offshore environments in choosing to remove future leasing in the Arctic,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“We need to ensure that we can drill safely and respond to spills before exploration moves forward in ecologically sensitive areas,” she said.
Despite the possibility of the plan being overturned, greens cheered Obama’s decision. 

“Oceana applauds President Obama and Secretary Jewell for their leadership in protecting our coasts from dirty and dangerous offshore drilling,” Jacqueline Savitz, senior vice president for the United States at Oceana, said in a statement.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates a commitment to prioritizing common sense, economics and science ahead of industry favoritism and politics as usual,” she said.

Republicans and the oil industry slammed Obama.
“The Arctic has become nothing more than a prop for the president’s legacy,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah).
“Today’s plan will chart a path of energy dependency for decades to come,” he said. “We should be building on our position as a global energy leader, but we are punting it to Russia as Obama appeases the environmentalists pulling his strings.”
American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard called the move “a short-sighted decision that ignores America’s long-term energy security needs,” and said he is hopeful that Trump would reverse Obama’s removal of the Arctic.

Greens had asked Obama to go further, and invoke a rarely-used legal provision in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act that they say would allow him to permanently protect the Arctic and Atlantic from drilling.

The Friday release did not include any use of that provision.

Interior referred questions about that proposal to the White House, which said it had no news Friday on the request.

Tags Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Donald Trump Interior Department Maria Cantwell Natural gas Offshore drilling oil Rob Bishop Sally Jewell
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