President Obama Blocks Drilling of Atlantic and Arctic Ocean Areas from Future Oil & Gas Leasing

Published December 20, 2016

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday, December 20, 2016, he is he is withdrawing offshore areas in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans from future mineral extraction to protect these ecologically sensitive marine environments from the impacts of any future oil and gas exploration and development.

The withdrawal does not restrict other uses of these federal waters on the Outer Continental Shelf, and will help to sustain commercial and recreational fisheries in the Atlantic to support fishing-dependent communities, as well as the harvest of marine resources on which many Alaska Native communities rely for subsistence use and cultural traditions.

“In 2015, just 0.1 percent of U.S. federal offshore crude production came from the Arctic and Department of Interior analysis shows that, at current oil prices, significant production in the Arctic will not occur. That’s why looking forward, we must continue to focus on economic empowerment for Arctic communities beyond this one sector. My Administration has proposed and directed unprecedented federal investments in the region, but more must be done – by the federal government, the private sector and philanthropy – to enhance infrastructure and our collective security, such as the acquisition of additional icebreaking capacity, and to lay the groundwork for economic growth in the industries of the future,” said President Obama in a prepared statement released by the White House.

President Obama dances with and greets students at Dillingham Middle School on Alaskan trip on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015. Photo: Tara Young

The withdrawal areas announced today encompass 3.8 million acres in the north and mid-Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast and 115 million acres in the U.S. Arctic Ocean. Including previous presidential withdrawals, today’s action protects nearly 125 million acres in the offshore Arctic from future oil and gas activity.

In the Atlantic, the withdrawal decision protects 31 canyons, extending from Heezen Canyon offshore New England to Norfolk Canyon offshore of the Chesapeake Bay. The largest, Hudson Canyon, reaches depths greater than 10,000 feet, comparable in scale to the Grand Canyon, which is 6,093 feet at its deepest. The canyons are regions of enhanced biodiversity, home to numerous species including deep-water corals, deep-diving beaked whales, commercially valuable fish, and significant numbers of habitat-forming soft and hard corals, sponges and crabs.

The President’s Arctic withdrawal, which encompasses the entire U.S. Chukchi Sea and significant portions of the U.S. Beaufort Sea, will provide critical protection for these vibrant and fragile offshore ecosystems, which are home to marine mammals and other important ecological resources and marine species on which many Alaska Native communities rely for subsistence and cultural traditions. These include several species of seals; Pacific walrus; polar bears; more than 98 fish species; a number of whale species, such as the bowhead, gray and beluga; many bird species, including waterfowl such as eiders, long-tailed duck and geese; and shorebirds such as the red-necked phalarope.

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