Obama closes off Arctic, Atlantic for oil and gas activity

The outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama has withdrawn millions of acres in the Arctic and the Atlantic Ocean from future oil and gas activity.

Together with Obama, Canada’s Prime minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would designate all Arctic Canadian waters as indefinitely off limits to future offshore Arctic oil and gas licensing.

The move announced by the White House on Tuesday means that 3.8 million acres in the north and mid-Atlantic Ocean off the U.S. East Coast and 115 million acres in the U.S. Arctic Ocean will be unavailable for oil and gas companies.

Including previous presidential withdrawals, the action makes nearly 125 million acres in the offshore Arctic unavailable for oil and gas exploration.

In the Atlantic, the withdrawal decision applies to 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.

Obama’s Arctic withdrawal encompasses the entire U.S. Chukchi Sea and significant portions of the U.S. Beaufort Sea.

The U.S. administration said the move would protect “fragile ecosystems and build resilience in the face of climate change.”

“Risks associated with oil and gas activity in the remote, harsh and undeveloped Arctic are not worth taking when the nation has ample energy sources near existing infrastructure,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, the Director of U.S. Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. “Oil spill response and clean-up raises unique challenges in the Arctic and a spill could have substantial impacts on the region, particularly given the ecosystem fragility and limited available resources to respond to a spill.”

The withdrawal does not affect existing leases in these federal offshore waters and would not affect a nearshore area of the Beaufort Sea, totaling about 2.8 million acres, that has high oil and gas potential and is adjacent to existing state oil and gas activity and infrastructure, U.S. Department of Interior said.