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Obama Bans Drilling in Atlantic, Arctic Waters

The Atlantic canyons are considered hotspots of biodiversity. (tpsdave/Pixabay)
The Atlantic canyons are considered hotspots of biodiversity. (tpsdave/Pixabay)
December 22, 2016

NEW YORK — President Obama has designated hundreds of millions of acres of federally-owned Atlantic and Arctic waters off-limits to oil and gas leasing.

Citing the extreme difficulty of cleaning up oil spills in the Arctic, the White House announcement, issued late Tuesday, protects large portions of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. And on the East Coast, a series of underwater canyons stretching from Massachusetts to Virginia are now protected.

Mark Brownstein, vice president in the Climate and Energy program at the Environmental Defense Fund, said those canyons are critical to biodiversity and to the economies of many coastal states.

"It's an incredibly productive fishery,” Brownstein said. “And a clean Atlantic Ocean is also the lifeblood of a very robust tourism industry that's worth literally hundreds of billions of dollars of economic activity."

The oil and gas industry said the president's action ignores national security concerns and threatens the creation of good-paying jobs. Republicans in Congress have said they will overturn the action as soon as the next administration takes over in January.

But the authority to protect these areas from drilling is contained in a 1953 law that does not specify that future presidents can reverse the order. Brownstein said there will be strong opposition to any move to overturn the protections.

"The environmental community will strongly support keeping these bans in place,” he said. "I think as far as the prohibition on development in the Atlantic, you'll find that many of the states will be right there with them."

And Brownstein argued that, considering the future of oil and gas in a low-carbon world, drilling in these areas is not a sound investment.

"When you look at the wide variety of analyses that have been done, there's no analysis that I've seen that justifies the development of the Arctic or the offshore Atlantic,” Brownstein said.

The presidential ban on drilling in Arctic waters, combined with action taken by the Canadian government, will, for now, take much of that region off the table for oil and gas development.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY