Obama urged to block future Arctic oil drilling

Five-year offshore oil plan set for approval later this year, which a future president would find hard to overturn

Polar Pioneer and an offshore supply vessel Harvey Supporter off the Alaskan coast (Pic: Shell/Flickr)

Polar Pioneer and an offshore supply vessel Harvey Supporter off the Alaskan coast (Pic: Shell/Flickr)

By Alex Pashley

US President Barack Obama could restrict the next office holder’s room for manoeuvre on energy policy by setting a moratorium on oil exploration in the Arctic.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is expected in January or February to advance on steps to hand out drilling rights for offshore oil and natural gas leases and finalise it later this year, reports Washington DC-based website the Hill.

The programme will cover 2017 to 2022 and only sales outlined in the plan can later take place. Obama’s second term ends in the spring of 2017.

A decision by the Department of Interior bureau last year to let oil major Shell explore in the polar region met vehement opposition from environmentalists, who highlighted the dangers of spills and its contribution to global warming.

The Anglo-Dutch company later withdrew amid weak oil prices, having spent US$7 billion on the venture, and said it wouldn’t return exploration off the coast of Alaska “for the foreseeable future.”

Report: Hillary Clinton opposes Arctic oil as Shell starts drilling

Obama faced calls of hypocrisy after outlining a suite of green measures in the build-up to a UN climate change summit. Presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton voiced her opposition, labelling the Arctic a “unique treasure”.

Excluding the icy region from the drilling plans, which cover rigs in the Atlantic, was a “really great opportunity for Obama” to deliver on his pledge to make climate change part of his legacy, said Marissa Knodel, a climate campaigner with Friends of the Earth.

Michael Livermore, an environmental law professor at the University of Virginia, said changing the lease schedule would be difficult for a future president, but not off-limits.

“If there is a leasing area that is not included in the leasing program… then no lease sales can be offered there, even by the next administration,” he told the Hill.

“But the administration could decide to initiate a new planning process, and through that planning process, open up new leasing areas.”

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