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Arctic oil drilling

Obama Administration Blocks Arctic Oil Drilling

Arctic oil drillingThe hits keep on coming for the oil industry as the Obama Administration races to cement its climate legacy before president-elect Donald Trump takes office in January.

On Friday, the US Interior Department published its five-year plan for offshore drilling leases. The plan blocks sale of new leases for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean between 2017 and 2022.

And earlier in the week the Interior Department finalized a rule to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands — another move that is unpopular with big oil.

The final offshore drilling plan does offers 11 potential lease sales in four areas: 10 in the Gulf of Mexico and one off the coast of Alaska in the Cook Inlet. In March, the White House cancelled its plan to include the Atlantic coast in this sale.

US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said the department took into consideration extensive public input and the best available scientific data before deciding to block oil and gas drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

“The plan focuses lease sales in the best places — those with the highest resource potential, lowest conflict, and established infrastructure — and removes regions that are simply not right to lease,” Jewell said in a statement. “Given the unique and challenging Arctic environment and industry’s declining interest in the area, forgoing lease sales in the Arctic is the right path forward.”

Jewell may approve the final 2017-2022 program after a minimum of 60 days; the plan would then become effective on July 1, 2017.

A year ago the Interior Department cancelled 2016 and 2017 Arctic oil drilling lease sales. It also denied Shell and Statoil’s requests to extend the time on leases that they currently hold.

The 2015 decision followed Shell’s announcement last month to abandon its Arctic drilling operations and cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future.

While environmental groups praised the 2017-2022 offshore oil drilling plan, big oil said the decision to block Arctic drilling puts the US at a competitive disadvantage and threatens the nation’s energy security.

“We are hopeful the incoming administration will reverse this decision — consistent with the will of American voters,” said American Petroleum Institute president and CEO Jack Gerard.

While Trump could potentially overturn the Arctic oil drilling ban, it could take years and may not receive much support if oil prices stay low, Inside Climate News reports.

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