Obama, Trudeau ban Arctic oil drilling

Article by Staff Writer

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have banned oil drilling in much of the Arctic as part of efforts to protect the region.

The measures are part of a package designed to protect the Arctic environment and the rights and cultures of the indigenous people who depend upon it. In a joint statement, the two men said that the measures will ensure a “strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem”. The Arctic waters, they say, are too vulnerable to the risks of oil and gas drilling.

The US has designated the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea as permanently and indefinitely unavailable for oil and gas leasing, while Canada’s Arctic waters are indefinitely unavailable, but the situation will be reviewed every five years following a climate and marine science-based life cycle assessment. Obama says he has withdrawn leasing rights using the authority granted to him by the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Land Act, a 1953 US law which allows the president to withdraw permissions on the OCS “without specific expiration”. Existing leases are unaffected.

The wider Arctic package announced includes the development of low-impact shipping corridors and support for renewable energy projects and science-based fisheries and marine management. Over the past year, the US and Canada have met with indigenous Arctic communities, residents, state, provincial and territorial governments, non-governmental organisations and local businesses in developing the new measures.

Obama has additionally withdrawn several areas of the US Atlantic coast from drilling, citing the need to protect canyons along the Atlantic continental shelf for wildlife such as marine mammals and deepwater corals, again using the OCS Land Act.

The announcement follows a climate pact agreed by the US and Canada in March.

The move is being widely seen as an attempt on the part of Obama to drive through environmental protection measures for the Arctic before Donald Trump takes over as president in 2017. Trump pledged to lift various energy-related regulations and restrictions and revive several abandoned oil projects, which has led to fears from environmentalists.

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Marissa Knodel welcomed the move to protect the oceans from drilling, calling it “a major victory for our oceans and climate”, but added that she hoped further protection would be extended to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Donald Trump’s actions since the election have made clear that he will put Big Oil’s profits above Americans’ public health. No president has ever rescinded a previous president’s permanent withdrawal of offshore areas from oil and gas development. If Donald Trump tries to reverse President Obama’s withdrawals, he will find himself in court,” she said.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), however, claims that the permanent withdrawal of drilling rights in fact goes against the OCS Lands Act, which makes the shelf available for development. API upstream director Erik Milito said that US national security depends on the country’s ability to produce its own oil and gas and that blocking drilling and exploration also threatens jobs and business.

“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. The US offshore industry has a long history of safe operations that have advanced the energy security of our nation and contributed significantly to our nation’s economy,” he added.

Article by Staff Writer

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