President Barack Obama. Image courtesy of the White House/Flickr.

The Obama administration has withdrawn millions of acres in the U.S. Arctic and Atlantic from further oil and gas drilling.

Obama used his executive authority to indefinitely designate the “vast majority” of U.S. waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas as off limits for future oil and gas leasing.

According to Bloomberg, the Beaufort Sea ban will not impact offshore acreage that is controlled by the state of Alaska.

The ban is part of a plan being implemented with the cooperation of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

As part of the plan, Canada will designate all Arctic Canadian waters as indefinitely off limits to future offshore Arctic oil and gas licensing.

The Canadian action will be reviewed every five years through a climate and marine science-based life-cycle assessment.

The White House cited the “vulnerability of these ecosystems to an oil spill” and the “logistical, operational, safety, and scientific challenges and risks” of extracting oil from those areas as reasons behind the ban.

Obama has also withdrawn 31 underwater canyons in the Atlantic that stretch from Massachusetts to the Virginia from future oil and gas leasing.

According to Reuters, the Arctic ban will impact 115 million acres while the Atlantic ban encompasses 3.8 million acres.

The bans will not impact oil and gas leases already held in the affected areas.

The executive actions could set the stage for a legal battle if incoming president Donald Trump decides to undo the orders.

White House officials told the Washington Post that Trump may not be able to reverse the executive actions but legal experts are divided on the issue.

Trump has expressed interest in expanding offshore drilling but his team has not commented on the bans.

The American Petroleum Institute, an energy industry group, said that Obama’s decision “ignores congressional intent, our national security, and vital, good-paying job opportunities.”

“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,” API director Erik Milito said.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates that the Chukchi Sea holds between 2 to 40 billion barrels of unproved technically recoverable crude oil resources.

The area is also thought to hold between 10 to 210 trillion cubic feet of unproved technically recoverable natural gas resources.

However, harsh conditions and high costs have made it difficult for upstreams to explore the U.S. Arctic.

Last year, Royal Dutch Shell said it would cease activity in offshore Alaska for the “foreseeable future” after disappointing well results in the Burger prospect.

Several companies, including Shell, Norway’s Statoil and ConocoPhillips, have relinquished leases in the Chukchi Sea since November 2015.


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