Outgoing President Barack Obama executed a critical order on Tuesday by banning any new gas and oil drilling in federal waters in Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. The move comes as an environmental safeguard prior to the new Republican administration taking office January 20th lead by President elect Donald Trump.
Utilizing a 1950s-era law termed the Outer Continental Shelf Act, Obama used the power of President to limit areas from mineral leasing and drilling. Trump’s incoming administration will only be able to challenge and change the edict by fighting it in court according to several environmental groups agreeing with the order.
Map of the Arctic waters to the north of Alaska just protected by President Obama. BOEM image.
The Alaskan waters ban affects 115 million acres in the Chukchi Sea and most of the Beaufort Sea as well as 3.8 million acres in the Atlantic Ocean. A main concern of environmental advocates regarding fuel exploration in the region is the devastating affects an oil spill or gas leakage in the oceans would have on the ecosystems. Such a remote and harsh climate would severely limit the capabilities of clean-up crews and emergency response teams. Wildlife such as polar bears, whales, seals and fish would be harmed and populations of the animals could be irreversibly destroyed.
Trump has continually stated that he will seek to expand offshore oil and gas drilling in the waters north of Alaska. Recent releases from his energy transition team predicted increases in production in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. These forecasts have been dealt a serious blow and are likely “dead in the water” at this time. Trump spokespeople would not comment on the actions.
Very limited oil and gas exploration has been happening in recent years as less expensive shale oil production primarily out of Texas and North Dakota has been the priority. Drilling off Arctic shores in Alaska is more expensive and risky in nature. Most notably, Shell Oil pulled out of the waters just last year following a shipping accident and limitation laws discovered by environmental groups limiting exploration.
Proponents for drilling such as the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry group, stated that Trump would be able to use a presidential memorandum to lift the ban rendering the move by Obama obsolete. “We are hopeful the incoming administration will reverse this decision as the nation continues to need a robust strategy for developing offshore and onshore energy,” said Erik Milito, API’s upstream director.
A view over the now protected Arctic waters from Barrow, Alaska. NASA photo.
Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are in agreement with protecting Arctic waters. The two leaders are initiating joint actions and these actions “reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited.” stated Obama.
In similar action Trudeau and Canada will designate all Arctic Canadian waters off limits indefinitely to any future offshore Arctic gas and oil licensing. These sanctions will be reviewed every five years through a climate and marine science-based life-cycle assessment. Obama’s action, unlike the five year review applied to the Canadian law, contains no designated analysis period outlined for the U.S. law.
Under current law, authorization is not granted for reversing a previous presidential order of this kind so efforts by Trump to challenge this move will most likely need to be taken up in court via a lawsuit.
“No president has ever tried to undo a permanent withdrawal of an ocean area from leasing eligibility,” said Neil Lawrence, Alaska director and attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Two photos of polar bears feasting on a whale carcass in Alaska. Pretty amazing shots by Sara Ramsden. These polar bears look well fed and rested after an amazing feast.
Polar bears feeding on a whale carcass in Alaska. Sara Ramsden photo.
Polar bears after the feast. Sara Ramsden photo.
Shell Oil exploratory oil rig in transit to Chukchi Sea in the Arctic. King-TV Seattle photo.
Royal Dutch Shell Oil will halt oil drilling in the Arctic after an initial exploratory well in the Chukchi Sea produced weak results.
The Burger J well was drilled 6,800 feet in a basin that had company officials thinking they were on top of a significant reserve. Even though some indications of oil and gas there wasn’t enough to continue investing in the site amid the contentious regulatory resistance of the area. Shell will seal the well and abandon the site.
“Shell continues to see important exploration potential in the basin, and the area is likely to ultimately be of strategic importance to Alaska and the U.S.,” Marvin Odum, president of Shell USA, said in a statement. “However, this is a clearly disappointing exploration outcome for this part of the basin.”
The failure to find oil is a major setback for Shell. The company was hoping that this new arena of exploration would yield long reaching profits. Environmentalists have a more relieved feeling.
“That’s incredible,” said Margaret Williams of the World Wildlife Fund in Anchorage. “All along the conservation community has been pointing to the challenging and unpredictable environmental conditions. We always thought the risk was tremendously great.”
An activist looks towards the rising sun as she hangs from the St. Johns bridge as part of a protest to block the Royal Dutch Shell PLC icebreaker Fennica from leaving for Alaska in Portland, Ore., Thursday, July 30, 2015. The icebreaker, which is a vital part of Shell’s exploration and spill-response plan off Alaska’s northwest coast, stopped short of the hanging blockade, turned around and sailed back to a dock at the Port of Portland. (AP Photo/Don Ryan) ORDR106 (Don Ryan / The Associated Press)
Shell has invested billions to get to this point in the Chukchi Sea and still have interest in further exploration. The oil company had the support of Alaska officials and business leaders have endorsed Shell for oil exploration in the area to bolster the trans-Alaska pipeline, which is now functioning at about one-quarter capacity.
Highlighting many of environmentalist’s concerns of Arctic exploration, one of Shell’s drilling vessels had some safety issues working in the Arctic. The ship broke away from its towline in the Gulf of Alaska and ran aground near Kodiak Island. A $12.2 million fine was paid by sub-contractor owners of the Noble Discoverer, after pleading guilty to eight felony maritime safety counts.
Polar bear on sea ice in the Arctic. Nasa photo.
The Arctic summer of 2013 was a cool one. So much so that the trend of decreasing sea ice has regained it’s recent losses by at least one third over the last few years. Because of the cool summer that year, more multi – year ice was left at the end of the summer.
Despite the encouraging news, scientists cautiously warn the news is an anomaly and climate change related to warming is still very real.
“It would suggest that sea is more resilient perhaps if you get one year of cooler temperature. We’ve almost wound the clock back a few years on this gradual decline that’s been happening over decades,” lead author Rachel Tilling told BBC News. “The long-term trend of the ice volume is downwards and the long-term trend of the temperatures in the Arctic is upwards and this finding doesn’t give us any reason to disbelieve that. As far as we can tell, it’s just one anomalous year.”
President Obama will visit Anchorage, Alaska on August 31 to address the state departments GLACIER conference. Foreign ministers from Arctic nations as well as non – Arctic states will attend as well as scientists, policy makers and stakeholders from the Arctic and Alaska will also attend.
The conference goal is to increase global awareness of how Arctic climate change is a harbinger for warming affects in the rest of the world.
Dog sledding in the north is part of the fabric of the culture. Enjoy this documentary of the Inuit lifestyle. Following another successful Hudson Bay Quest on the heels of the Iditarod in Alaska, this documentary gives good insight into the extent dogs play in northern peoples culture. Everywhere you go in Churchill dog yards or remnants of old ones exist. Over the past decade dog sledding interest in Churchill has peaked. With the way the mushing scene is gaining traction all over the world it can only continue to grow even more.
Qimmit: A Clash of Two Truths by Ole Gjerstad & by Joelie Sanguya, National Film Board of Canada