Obama "permanently" bans oil and gas drilling in US northern waters

Areas in the Arctic and North Atlantic are "indefinitely off limits"...

Obama "permanently" bans oil and gas drilling in US northern waters

President Barack Obama speaks at the Global Leadership in the Arctic, 2015. Picture by Andrew Harnik AP/Press Association Images

US President Barack Obama has banned oil and gas drilling in northern waters controlled by the US in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, as he looks to allay some of his environmental and energy concerns ahead of Donald Trump taking his seat in the Oval Office next month. 

Obama employed a 1953 law called the Outer Continental Shelf Act that grants the commander-in-chief powers to "permanently" limit where mineral leasing and drilling can take place.

The area accounts for the "vast majority" of US-owned northern waters, which would now be "indefinitely off limits" and would result in court action if President-elect Trump attempted to reverse it. The ban affects 115 million acres (46.5 million hectares) in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska and most of the Beaufort Sea, as well as 3.8 million acres (1.5 million hectares) of Atlantic waters, from New England to Chesapeake Bay.

Canada also agreed to a similar restriction in a joint announcement in Washington on Tuesday. While Canada will review the situation every five years, the White House has emphatically stated that Obama's decision is permanent. 

It said the move was vital to maintain "a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem", citing the "vulnerability" of the region to oil spills, wildlife concerns and native cultural needs as reasons behind the ban, the BBC reports

Trump had pledged to exploit US oil reserves during his presidential campaign, though environmental groups believe Obama has pre-emptively nixed his plans.

Friends of the Earth told the BBC:

"No president has ever rescinded a previous president's permanent withdrawal of offshore areas from oil and gas development.

"If Donald Trump tries to reverse President Obama's withdrawals, he will find himself in court."

Conversely, the American Petroleum Institute has argued that there is "no such thing" as a permanent ban.