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Arctic offshore drilling banned by Obama

Credit: Greenpeace
Credit: Greenpeace

Barack Obama has introduced a ban on offshore oil drilling for at least five years in the Arctic.

After a continually rocky road towards US environmentalism, the ban demonstrates a symbolic triumph for the increasingly vulnerable Arctic region.

Drilling will still be permitted in Alaska’s Cook Inlet and also in many areas of the Gulf of Mexico. However, a ban will take in place in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off Northern Alaska, according to the US Department of the Interior’s 2017 to 2022 leasing plan. Drilling development in the Cook Inlet near south Alaska will also be limited as part of this plan.

The majority of the lease sales proposed in the plan are in the Gulf of Mexico, the main offshore oil production site of the US. These sales will pave the way for reducing the harmful environmental impacts of US offshore oil drilling.

Sally Jewell the US Secretary of State speaks encouragingly about the plan:

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… 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

The plan has caused some outrage from industry leaders, labelling the decision as “arrogant.” There has even been complaints about the new ban from the Senate itself. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski in particular has condemned Obama’s decision to impose this ban having been an advocate for new lease sales in the Arctic in the past.



This being said, there has generally been a warm reception to the ban. Nearly 400 scientists had signed a letter during the summer to encourage Obama to take action on Arctic offshore drilling to protect US coasts. The president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Rhea Suh, has called the result “a significant milestone in protecting the fragile Arctic Ocean and limiting climate change.”

Whilst the plan does not shut down all new offshore drilling around Alaska, the ban still contributes significantly to Obama’s green legacy. All that is left now is to see whether President-elect Trump’s plans to lift restrictions on US energy reserves go ahead and reverses the progress Obama has made.

For more information on Trump’s potential impacts on climate change click here