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Obama uses 1953 law to block Arctic drilling under Trump

'These actions, and Canada's parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth.'
Timothy J. Seppala, @timseppala
December 20, 2016
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Reuters

President Obama has blocked any attempts at drilling for oil off the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. This would "indefinitely" stop oil and natural gas extraction in the areas, according to a report by CNBC. And unlike executive orders that've been signed into place over the past eight years, this apparently can't be easily undone by President-elect Trump when he takes office.

This will protect some 31 underwater canyons in the Atlantic, and the Beaufort and Chukchi seas surrounding Alaska in the Arctic Ocean. Canada approved similar provisions to block oil and gas exploration.

"These actions, and Canada's parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth," Obama said. "They reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region's harsh conditions is limited."

Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton invoked the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act during their terms as well. The difference, according to CNBC, is that those were for short time periods. Obama's is the "broadest use of the statute ever because it would be far-reaching in terms of the lands it would protect and come without an expiration date."

The move could be challenged in court, and Congress, controlled by Republicans, could try altering the law. But, that would mean the case could be stuck in court for much of Trump's term. However, energy companies have already left the region because of the high risk associated with drilling in the area, for relatively low reward.

Coupled with low oil prices, drilling becomes even more risky considering that energy companies can only extract for two months out of the year.

Rather than exploiting the area for short-term gain, Obama seems to be taking the longview here, protecting a fragile region from the effects of fossil fuel production and disasters that could arise from industry. It's a direct shot at Trump's plans to tear down regulations protecting the environment for the sake of business and the profits of his cronies -- not to mention his multiple climate-change skeptic cabinet picks.

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