In a joint statement with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Barack Obama said today that the United States "is designating the vast majority of U.S. waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas as indefinitely off limits to offshore oil and gas leasing." Canada is designating all Arctic Canadian waters as indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas licensing, with a review every five years through "a climate and marine science-based life-cycle assessment."
Obama said that he is making the move because of the important, irreplaceable values of the Arctic waters for "indigenous, Alaska Native and local communities' subsistence and cultures, wildlife and wildlife habitat, and scientific research; the vulnerability of these ecosystems to an oil spill; and the unique logistical, operational, safety and scientific challenges and risks of oil extraction and spill response in Arctic waters."
The president has yet to issue an executive order setting out the specific terms of the land withdrawals. According to a map published by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the land withdrawal encompasses the entire Chukchi and Beaufort seas, apart from a strip of the Beaufort Sea relatively close to the coastline between Smith Bay and the western side of Camden Bay.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker responded immediately to the president's announcement.
"This unprecedented move marginalizes the voices of those who call the Arctic home and have asked for responsible resource development to lower the cost of energy to heat houses and businesses," Walker said. "For centuries, the Arctic has provided food for those in the region. No one is more invested than Alaskans to ensure that the habitats within the Arctic are protected. To lock it up against any further exploration or development activity is akin to saying that the voices of activists who live in Lower 48 cities have a greater stake than those to whom the Arctic is our front yard and our back yard."
Presumably in reference to the area of the Beaufort Sea not included in the withdrawal, Walker also said that some offshore regions with economic potential for the state have not been included in the president's leasing ban.
- ALAN BAILEY
See story in Dec. 25 issue, available Friday, Dec. 23 at www.PetroleumNews.com