Obama Administration Issues Offshore Drilling Ban In Arctic And Atlantic

Dec 20, 2016
Originally published on December 20, 2016 10:54 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Obama made a last-minute move today to protect some of his environmental legacy. He ordered a permanent ban on oil drilling in large parts of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. The Obama administration says this decision cannot be reversed by future presidents. NPR's Jeff Brady joins us now. And Jeff, what exactly is President Obama telling his administration to do here?

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: This this order that the president has signed - it puts two very large areas off limits to drilling for oil and gas. One of those areas is in the Atlantic Ocean. It's nearly 6,000 square miles. It stretches from New England, offshore of Massachusetts all the way down to the Chesapeake Bay off the coast of Virginia.

And the second area is up in the Arctic off the northern coast of Alaska. It's the entire Chukchi Sea and much of the Beaufort Sea except for this little strip along the northern coast of Alaska where there's already a lot of oil and gas activity. And President Obama's administration listed some specific reasons for making these places off-limit to oil and gas drilling, climate change being a big one, protecting sensitive habitats for endangered species such as polar bears and whales.

And another justification is preserving these areas for native populations in Alaska who depend on these waters for food. And there's also concern about oil spills in the Arctic because this is a pretty harsh environment, and oil spills are much more likely there. And they're harder to clean up.

SHAPIRO: People who support offshore oil drilling often say it'll create jobs and help the economy. Did the White House address those arguments?

BRADY: Yeah, the White House says that the Arctic especially - there's less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the country's production that comes from that area now - so not much activity going on there. With low oil prices, it's very expensive to drill there. And overall, the administration says the country is producing a lot of oil now, and the president believes that this strikes a good balance between protecting sensitive areas and still leaving enough other places to drill to provide for the country's energy needs.

And you know, the industry has had this line that says, if the U.S. bars offshore drilling in the Arctic and North Atlantic, you know, Canada will just come in and do it instead. But the administration really addressed that with this order because they announced it in a joint agreement with Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government also is placing a hold on drilling.

SHAPIRO: And today, what has the reaction been from the oil and gas industry?

BRADY: Yeah, they're not happy with this. I talked with Andy Radford at the American Petroleum Institute, and he called this another in a long line of hits this administration has levied against the oil industry. He says this is going to hurt job growth and the economy, something we hear a lot from the industry when something like this happens. But in the end, Radford says he thinks President Obama's order to protect these areas will not stand.

ANDY RADFORD: We just don't think this is a permanent thing. We think it can be undone with a simple presidential memorandum, and we'd like to see the new president do that when he gets into office.

SHAPIRO: The White House currently says that can't happen. What's their rationale?

BRADY: Yeah, a senior administration official says this order is based on a law from the 1950s. They say the law is very clear. I've read it. It's just a couple of sentences. And the White House says the president is acting within his authority, that presidents of both parties have done this in the past, and trying to reverse such an order would be unprecedented if President-elect Trump tried to do that. But there's also no case law on this, so if there's a legal challenge - and I'm not going to be surprised if there is one - it's really not clear what a court would decide.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Jeff Brady, thanks a lot.

BRADY: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.