Washington, D.C. – Our oceans are more protected today because President Obama permanently withdrew 115 million acres of the Arctic and 31 canyons in the Atlantic Ocean from all future oil and gas development, citing the dangers of offshore drilling and the need to move away from fossil fuels. Canada announced parallel actions, which included an indefinite freeze on oil and gas leasing in Arctic waters to be reviewed every five years.
“This is a win for all who spoke out in support of putting our oceans off limits to oil extraction once and for all,” said Rachel Richardson, director of Environment America’s Stop Drilling program. “President Obama just gave us an incredible victory in the fight to protect our oceans and climate from reckless offshore drilling and spilling.”
In November, the Department of Interior (DOI) finalized its 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Plan, which removed proposed leases in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, protecting these areas for the next five years. Today’s decision provides some certainty for these drill-free oceans by ensuring millions of acres remain off limits to oil and gas development, not just for the next five years, but permanently.
President Obama granted protections under Provision 12A of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), which empowers the president to “from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer continental shelf” from oil and gas development.
The call for permanent protection has been building for months. Small business leaders and the Business Alliance for Protection of the Atlantic Coast (BAPAC) urged President Obama to permanently protect the Atlantic Ocean from offshore drilling and dozens of scientists made the case for permanent protection. Additionally, recent polling data showed that a majority of Americans support permanent protection for the Arctic and Atlantic.
Such opposition capitalized off of massive local support for protecting our coasts leading up to the exclusion of proposed leases in DOI’s five-year drilling plan. Thousands showed up to hearings on the east coast, more than 120 coastal communities passed resolutions formally opposing oil and gas exploration and development in the Atlantic, and more than 1,000 small businesses sent letters to the president opposing drilling because of its risks to our coastal tourism and fishing industries.
Including today's announcement, 125 million acres in the Arctic have been withdrawn, protecting 98% of federal Arctic waters. The decision provides additional protection for the fragile region where harsh conditions would make a spill nearly impossible to clean up risking polar bears, beluga whales, ice seals, and other precious marine life that call the area home. In the Atlantic, while today's announcement will go a long way in ensuring protection of our incredible underwater canyons and the unique species they support, additional steps must be taken to preserve our east coast beaches, coastal communities, and iconic wildlife such as the endangered right whale.
“The only safe amount of drilling for our oceans and climate is none at all,” Richardson said. “That’s why we need to move swiftly toward 100% renewable energy and leave oil drilling off our coasts behind completely. We applaud the president for taking this historic step to preserve our oceans for future generations and will continue to fight drilling proposals that threaten our coasts.”