On Tuesday, December 20, President Obama protected his environmental legacy, hundreds of millions of acres of federally owned lands and uncountable numbers of plant-life and wildlife when he enacted the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). Putting OCSLA into play removes large portions of federally owned land in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans from being used for offshore drilling and oil exploration.
An announcement from the Center for Biodiversity today encourages citizens to “Take a moment to celebrate: President Obama has just banned offshore oil and gas drilling across more than 100 million acres in the Arctic and in the Atlantic along the Eastern Seaboard.” The Center also states that “Protecting the Arctic and Atlantic from dangerous drilling will give polar bears, ringed seals, right whales and other endangered species a fighting chance.” Other endangered species living in the area include the Pacific walrus, fin whale and the bowhead whale.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took similar steps, protecting areas of Canada’s Arctic waters. Both measures address only federal lands and will not affect drilling in state waters.
The White House describes the timeline of protection as “indefinite” and expressed that actions by both the U.S. and Canada “…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.”
This is the third time Obama has invoked the OCSLA, the first was in 2014 to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay and in 2015 to safeguard another section of Alaska’s Arctic coast. Currently, there is no authority for future presidents to undo the protection and allow drilling on the designated sites, but Congress may have the power to overturn the decision if new evidence emerges.