The Obama administration will use a legal strategy crafted by environmental activists to remove sections of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans from future offshore drilling lease sales, according to two sources familiar with the plan told Bloomberg.
For months, environmentalists have been urging President Barack Obama to use Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, a 1953 law governing offshore drilling, in a way it’s never been used before — to block offshore drilling leases in the Atlantic Ocean and the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.
Two people told Bloomberg’s Jennifer Dlouhy the decision could be announced as soon as Tuesday.
Dlouhy reports that environmental lawyers “have been laying the groundwork for Obama’s decision by circulating memos on the legal strategy” and claiming oil spills would hurt wildlife and tourism.
“The Trump administration has the potential to do serious damage to our climate — but in the last few months of his presidency, President Obama can take concrete steps to secure his environmental legacy,” San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, who runs the group NextGen Climate Action, wrote in a recent letter to the Obama administration.
Activists said it’s not clear President-elect Donald Trump could completely rescind Obama’s order to keep large offshore areas from drillers. Presidents have modified past designations, but no one has ever completely undone them.
Environmentalists hope it would take years for Trump or Congress to repeal an Obama decision to permanently keep Arctic and Atlantic areas off limits to drilling.
The Obama administration has already stripped Arctic and Atlantic lease sales from its proposed five-year offshore drilling plan, but using the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act would prevent them from being considered in future plans altogether.
Environmentalists have been calling for an Arctic drilling ban for years, pointing to when a Royal Dutch Shell oil rig ran aground during a storm in 2013. Activists also say oil spills could further threaten an area already being impacted by global warming.
Since then, federal regulators have issued more offshore drilling regulations, which, combined with low oil prices, have dampened companies’ appetites for exploring the region.
Though in the long-run, the oil industry and defense experts say the Arctic should be kept open for energy security purposes. The U.S.-owned portion of the Arctic could hold 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Obama has already used the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to keep large portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off limits to drillers.
Obama’s order to keep areas off-limits to drilling is not expected to affect current leases.
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