Obama Administration Declares Atlantic and Arctic Off-Limits to Oil and Gas Drilling

On Friday, November 18, 2016, the Obama administration announced that the Department of the Interior’s 2017-2022 offshore oil and gas leasing plan (“Leasing Plan”) will restrict drilling activities to the Gulf of Mexico, and one already-developed area in the Arctic’s Cook Inlet.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell stated that the Leasing Plan will focus lease sales in those areas with “the highest resource potential, lowest conflict and established infrastructure” and only foregoes those areas that are not economical or otherwise unattractive to industry groups.

However, industry groups, such as the American Petroleum Institute, immediately disputed these claims, pointing to the need to protect our nation’s energy supply and independence. It is estimated that the U.S. Arctic holds 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, but energy companies have struggled to overcome the environmental obstacles to fully exploit these resources.

The Leasing Plan had previously envisioned oil and gas development in the Atlantic, but the DOI backtracked after receiving fierce opposition from environmental groups and governmental agencies. The Department of Defense and NASA claimed that drilling in the Atlantic would interfere with their operations, and some coastal lawmakers and environmental groups feared the potential of another oil spill.

President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to support petroleum development, and may reverse the decision after taking office on January 20, 2017.