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Obama Blocks Drilling Off West Coast, Arctic Waters In Last Month Of Presidency

Gulf of Mexico drilling

As President Barack Obama nears the end of his second term, he issued a new drilling plan to restrict oil and gas extraction activities off two American shores: the waters of the Arctic near Alaska and the Pacific Coast of California, Washington, and Oregon.

The Department of Interior’s 2017-2022 leasing plan blocks drilling activities in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas near northern Alaska, while limiting petroleum development on the Cook Islands, according to Reuters.

Environmentalists had been concerned that an oil and gas presence in the area would jeopardize the lives of endangered whales as well as walruses and seals.

According to the Interior Department, the “balanced” drilling plan still leaves around 70 percent of the United States’ recoverable offshore reserves open for business. The available sites are located mostly in the Gulf of Mexico, which saw a six-month moratorium on drilling in 2010 after the five million-barrel BP spill.

The natural disaster caused environmental regulators to create stricter rules to operate in the Gulf, which the U.S. shares with its southern neighbor.

President-elect Donald Trump, who will assume office in January, promised during his campaign to make the country energy independent by opening up previously protected public lands and waters to oil and gas interests.

A required 60-day comment period following the publication of the plan will end before Obama’s term officially ends next year. After the five-year plan becomes official, altering it will be complicated because it will trigger a series of public hearings, studies and federal law analyses.

California’s coastline has been an object of oil and gas interest for decades, but the state’s strong Democratic institutions have blocked the construction of any new offshore drilling platforms for more than 30 years.

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the new drilling plan’s exclusion of western waters “is consistent with the long-standing position of the Pacific coast states in opposition to oil and gas development off their coasts.”

By Zainab Calcuttawala for Oilprice.com

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