Obama May Have Just Permanently Protected Huge Swathes Of Federal Waters From Oil And Gas Drilling

In an attempt to preserve his environment-friendly legacy, Obama pushes last second executive actions.

Obama May Have Just Permanently Protected Huge Swathes Of Federal Waters From Oil And Gas Drilling

Barack Obama has used his executive power to prevent any future offshore drilling throughout swathes of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

The controversial move is being cheered by environmentalists who want Obama to secure his climate-friendly legacy before president-elect Donald Trump takes power. Opponents of the move are objecting on the grounds that it will limit the United States' ability to produce its own energy.


President Obama used a 63-year-old law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953, which gives the president power to protect federal waters which aren't already leased for oil and gas drilling. The decision was announced in conjunction with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who made similar but less permanent commitments to protect the Arctic from drilling. 

"It would take decades to fully develop the production infrastructure necessary for any large scale oil and gas leasing production in the region — at a time when we need to continue to move decisively away from fossil fuels," Obama said in a statement. 

Meanwhile, incoming president Trump has vowed repeatedly to increase America's oil extraction. Trump's potential cabinet, which is full of big oil loyalists, has left environmental activists pressuring Obama to do whatever he can to minimize potential damage. 

While some are optimistic Trump won't be able to undo the law, other oil advocates have remained confident they can find a workaround. Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute told the Los Angeles Times "there is no such thing as permanent ban."

It also isn't entirely clear if the action will change much in the region. Royal Dutch Shell is the only company to conduct exploratory drilling recently, and after spending $7 billion dollars and an entire summer preparing, they left disappointed with results.

Despite the controversy surrounding the decisions, there are some elements that should come with widespread support: protections it provides in the north Atlantic, around New England, are in place to preserve hotspots of biodiversity in underwater canyons, some deeper than the Grand Canyon.

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