President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, announced an agreement today to ban oil and gas drilling in 115 million acres of the Arctic Ocean and 3.8 million acres of the Atlantic Ocean, stretching between Maryland ad Massachusetts.
Earlier in the year, Obama had excluded these areas for a five-year period, but today’s action used a provision in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act that should make the withdrawal permanent.
The 1953 OCSLA gave the federal government jurisdiction over all submerged lands more than three miles offshore—that is, outside of state coastal waters. It gives the Department of the Interior the ability to lease offshore tracts for oil and natural gas, but its section 12(a) specifically allows the president to “withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer continental shelf.” Since there is no provision for a succeeding president to reverse such an order, it is presumed to be permanent.
The OCSLA gives the president unilateral authority to enter into the agreement and, unlike executive orders, it is likely to be immune from repeal by Obama’s successors.
“These actions, and Canada’s parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on Earth,” Obama said. “They 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.”
“By removing the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans from the five-year plan, President Obama declared that the preservation of our waters from offshore drilling is paramount to protecting our beaches, the climate, and coastal economies,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. “Today’s announcement reaffirms that fact and prevents future administrations from destroying our waters and coastal communities.”
Both countries are launching the first processes ever to identify sustainable shipping lanes throughout their connected Arctic waters, in collaboration with Northern and Indigenous partners. The U.S. Coast Guard is launching a Port Access Route Study (PARS) in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Results from this analysis may be used to establish vessel routing measures including traffic separation schemes, recommended routes, areas To Be avoided, or other instruments such as fairways where no structures may be erected.