Obama bans offshore drilling in 115M more acres in Atlantic, Arctic

By Doug G. Ware   |   Updated Dec. 21, 2016 at 6:27 AM

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that he has removed hundreds of millions of acres of federal land in the Atlantic and Arctic from potential offshore oil and gas drilling -- a move that could further complicate pledges made by President-elect Donald Trump to increase domestic oil production.

Obama used the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to protect 115 million acres of land in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic, and offshore acreage from Massachusetts to Virginia in the Atlantic.

The White House said the announcement is part of a joint project between the United States and Canada to protect vulnerable lands from offshore drilling.

"Today, President Obama and Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau are proud to launch actions ensuring a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem, with low-impact shipping, science based management of marine resources, and free from the future risks of offshore oil and gas activity," the White House said in a statement. "Together, these actions set the stage for deeper partnerships with other Arctic nations, including through the Arctic Council."

It was previously reported that Obama was mulling a drilling ban under authority of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

Obama's administration said the new protections are motivated by a desire to preserve ecosystems, wildlife and native environments from the harmful potential of an oil spill, as well as other fallout that could occur from large-scale drilling.

"The United States is designating the vast majority of U.S. waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas as indefinitely off limits to offshore oil and gas leasing, and 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 White House continued.

"Today was a good day for the Arctic," a video posted by the White House stated. "Good for the walrus. Good for the seal. Good for the planet. President Obama has conserved more land and water than any president in history."

Officials also said both nations are working to prevent unregulated commercial fisheries in the Arctic High Seas until an internationally recognized Regional Fishery Management Organization is put in place.

"Both countries are working towards such an agreement in the coming months," they said.

The ban could create more problems for Trump if he seeks to increase drilling in the Arctic, as he pledged during his campaign.

Last month, the Department of the Interior's five-year plan for 2017-22 made two other key areas of the Arctic off limits to drilling.

Trump could possibly undo the ban, particularly with a Republican-controlled Congress, but it's unclear how that would be accomplished and how long it would take before drilling could start on those lands.

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