U.S. and Canadian governments put limits on Arctic oil and gas exploration, with the government in Ottawa sidelining all of its territorial waters. Photo by Kyle Waters/Shutterstock
OTTAWA, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- U.S. and Canadian voices debated the wisdom of the indefinite ban on oil and gas work in some of its territorial waters, the Arctic in particular.
As part of a joint move with the Canadian government, outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama used his authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to ban oil and gas work in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off the coast of Alaska, as well as Atlantic coast areas.
Dale Marshall with Environmental Defense Canada said the indefinite ban on Arctic oil and gas in particular was welcome news for a nation looking to strike a balance between coastal resources and aboriginal and environmental concerns.
"The Arctic holds a precious, yet sensitive ecosystem that is vital to Indigenous livelihoods and culture in the north," he said in a statement. "Increasingly, governments need to be taking steps to remove the most dangerous forms of fossil fuel development off the table."
A report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration finds the Arctic basins alone hold about 22 percent of the world's undiscovered conventional oil and natural gas resources. Uncorking those reserves supports some of the regional economies, with Alaska relying in part on the 13.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil in Prudhoe Bay.
In the joint Canadian-U.S. statement, the governments said some of the other ecological and cultural assets in the Arctic are irreplaceable and the vulnerability from an oil spill and extraction is too great to ignore. The U.S. government as a result designated most of its U.S. territorial waters and the Canadian government designated all of its Arctic territorial waters off limits to oil and gas indefinitely.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said the move was an unprecedented shot across his state's bow. Decisions made far away from Arctic territories exposes his state to economic vulnerabilities.
"No one is more invested than Alaskans to ensure that the habitats within the Arctic are protected," he said in a statement. "To lock it up against any further exploration or development activity is akin to saying that the voices of activists who live in Lower 48 cities have a greater stake than those to whom the Arctic is our front yard and our back yard."
Without Prudhoe Bay, the EIA's assessment found it was unlikely that smaller oil fields in Alaska would be development because of the corresponding infrastructure build. Nevertheless, EIA said developing Arctic basins is costly to the point that work is prohibitive.
EIA said 61 large oil and gas fields have been discovered across the entire Arctic region. Forty-three of those are in Russian territorial waters.