Obama blocks new oil, gas drilling in Arc­tic Ocean

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Matthew Daly

WASH­ING­TON>> The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is block­ing new oil and gas drilling in the Arc­tic Ocean, hand­ing a vic­tory to en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who say in­dus­trial ac­tiv­ity in the icy wa­ters will harm whales, wal­ruses and other wildlife and ex­ac­er­bate global warm­ing.

A five-year off­shore drilling plan an­nounced on Fri­day blocks the planned sale of new oil and gas drilling rights in the Chukchi and Beau­fort seas north of Alaska. The plan al­lows drilling to go for­ward in Alaska’s Cook In­let south­west of An­chor­age.

The blue­print for drilling from 2017 to 2022 can be rewrit­ten by Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump, in a process that could take months or years.

Be­sides Cook In­let, the plan also al­lows drilling in the Gulf of Mex­ico, long the cen­ter of U.S. off­shore oil pro­duc­tion. Ten of the 11 lease sales pro­posed in the five-year plan are in the Gulf, mostly off the coasts of Mis­sis­sippi, Louisiana, Texas and Alabama.

Con­firm­ing a de­ci­sion an­nounced this spring, the fiveyear plan also bars drilling in the At­lantic Ocean.

“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,” said In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Sally Jewell.

“Given the unique and chal­leng­ing Arc­tic en­vi­ron­ment and

in­dus­try’s de­clin­ing in­ter­est in the area, for­go­ing lease sales in the Arc­tic is the right path for­ward,” Jewell said.

The de­ci­sion fol­lows an an­nounce­ment last year by Royal Dutch Shell PLC, the only com­pany in the last decade to drill in fed­eral wa­ters, that it would cease ex­plo­ration in the Chukchi and Beau­fort seas af­ter spend­ing up­ward of $7 bil­lion. The com­pany cited dis­ap­point­ing re­sults from a well drilled in the Chukchi and the un­pre­dictable fed­eral reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment.

De­spite that, in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives re­acted bit­terly to the lat­est an­nounce­ment, call­ing the de­ci­sion po­lit­i­cal and not sup­ported by the facts.

“The ar­ro­gance of the de­ci­sion is un­fath­omable, but un­for­tu­nately not sur­pris­ing,” said Ran­dall Luthi, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Ocean In­dus­tries As­so­ci­a­tion, an in­dus­try group.

“Once again, we see the at­ti­tude that Wash­ing­ton

“Given the unique and chal­leng­ing Arc­tic en­vi­ron­ment and in­dus­try’s de­clin­ing in­ter­est in the area, for­go­ing lease sales in the Arc­tic is the right path for­ward.” — U.S. In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Sally Jewell

knows best — an at­ti­tude that con­trib­uted to last week’s elec­tion re­sults,” Luthi said, re­fer­ring to Trump’s vic­tory over Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton.

More than 70 per­cent of Alaskans, in­clud­ing a ma­jor­ity of Alaska Na­tives, sup­port off­shore drilling, Luthi said.

The state’s three Repub­li­can mem­bers of Congress also blasted the de­ci­sion.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, RAlaska, said she was “in­fu­ri­ated” that Obama “has once again ig­nored our voices to side with the fac­tions who op­pose” off­shore drilling in Alaska.

“Arc­tic de­vel­op­ment is one of the best ways to cre­ate jobs, gen­er­ate rev­enues and re­fill the Trans-Alaska Pipe­line,” said Murkowski, who chairs the Se­nate En­ergy and Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee. “Why the pres­i­dent is will­ing to send all of those ben­e­fits over­seas is be­yond ex­pla­na­tion.”

As he pre­pares to leave of­fice in two months, Obama has worked to build an en­vi­ron­men­tal legacy that in­cludes a global agree­ment to curb cli­mate change and an am­bi­tious plan to re­duce car­bon pol­lu­tion from coal­fired power plants. He also has im­posed stricter lim­its on smog-caus­ing pol­lu­tion linked to asthma and re­jected the Key­stone XL oil pipe­line from Canada.

All of those ac­com­plish­ments and oth­ers are at risk from Trump’s pres­i­dency. Trump loathes reg­u­la­tion and wants to in­crease oil and gas drilling and the use of coal.

Trump has said he be­lieves cli­mate change is a hoax and has vowed to “can­cel” U.S. in­volve­ment in the land­mark Paris Agree­ment on global warm­ing. While he has been vague about pre­cise poli­cies, Trump is likely to seek to weaken or kill the Clean Power Plan, a cor­ner­stone Obama pol­icy meant to re­duce car­bon pol­lu­tion from the na­tion’s power plants as part of an ef­fort to com­bat cli­mate change

The de­ci­sion to block Arc­tic drilling fol­lows a de­ci­sion this spring to block drilling in the At­lantic. Repub­li­can gov­er­nors in North and South Carolina back drilling off their states’ coasts, as does the Demo­cratic gov­er­nor of Vir­ginia. The state’s two Demo­cratic se­na­tors also sup­port drilling.

Jac­que­line Savitz, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of Oceana, an en­vi­ron­men­tal group, hailed the Arc­tic an­nounce­ment and praised Obama and Jewell for “pro­tect­ing our coasts from dirty and dan­ger­ous off­shore drilling.”

Re­jec­tion of drilling in the Ar­tic and At­lantic “demon­strates a com­mit­ment to pri­or­i­tiz­ing com­mon sense, eco­nomics and sci­ence ahead of in­dus­try fa­voritism and pol­i­tics as usual,” Savitz said.

Nearly 400 sci­en­tists signed a let­ter this sum­mer urg­ing Obama to elim­i­nate the pos­si­bil­ity of Arc­tic off­shore drilling.

Sen. Dan Sul­li­van, RAlaska, said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was “once again ca­pit­u­lat­ing to the de­mands of ex­treme en­vi­ron­men­tal groups over Alaskans and their fel­low Americans who want good-pay­ing jobs, en­ergy in­de­pen­dence and a strong econ­omy.”

AP PHOTO/AL GRILLO

In this 2007 file photo, an oil tran­sit pipe­line runs across the tun­dra to a flow sta­tion at the Prud­hoe Bay oil field on Alaska’s North Slope. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is block­ing new oil and gas drilling in the Arc­tic Ocean, hand­ing a vic­tory to en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who say in­dus­trial ac­tiv­ity in the icy wa­ters will harm marine mam­mals and ex­ac­er­bate global warm­ing.

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