President Barack Obama has declared much of U.S. waters in the Arctic Ocean and some areas in the Atlantic Ocean permanently unavailable to oil and gas drilling.
The Obama administration announced the action as the government of Canada took similar measures. Canada is placing a temporary ban on new oil and gas leasing in parts of the Arctic Ocean that it controls.
Obama is using part of a 1953 law to ban leases for oil and gas drilling. Offshore drilling involves recovering oil or gas below the bottom of the sea. The law the administration is using says, "the president of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf."
The Continental Shelf is an area near land where the ocean is not very deep.
Environmental groups hope the move will make it difficult for future presidents to change the ban.
The Obama administration said the ban was an answer to environmental concerns. These include the importance of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas to native Alaskans, and the risk that an oil spill presents to the ecosystems there.
Some oil industry officials disagreed with the president’s action.
Dan Naatz, of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said that the ban would put the U.S. on a path of energy dependence for many years. He said that the U.S. instead should be a global energy leader.
President-elect Donald Trump has promised to make major changes to how the U.S. produces energy. He has chosen Cabinet nominees who are strongly opposed to Obama's environmental and climate change policies.
Trump’s election victory has put pressure on environmental groups and businesses that rely on tourism and fishing. Trump has said he wants to use all available fuel reserves to reduce energy imports.
Jackie Savitz is a senior vice president at the environmental group Oceana. She says that the decision will help protect coastal tourism and fishing businesses from offshore drilling. She says that oil drilling provides smaller profits than supporters promise and can harm coastal life.
What is not clear is how difficult it will be for future presidents to change Obama's decision.
In 2008, President George W. Bush used a legal action to permit drilling on Outer Continental Shelf lands.
However, administration officials have noted that previous “indefinite withdrawals” are still in place.
Congratulations and critique
Lawmakers have had mixed reactions to the move.
Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ed Markey said that President Obama is putting the interests of millions of Americans ahead of oil companies.
However, Utah Representative and chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources Rob Bishop says that the president is only trying to please special interest groups.
"This is not a moral calling; it's an abuse of power," he said.
The ban is one of several efforts Obama has made in recent months to leave an environmental legacy for his presidency.
In August, the Obama administration announced it will increase the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii to 1.5 million square kilometers. This makes the monument the largest marine protected area in the United States.
I’m Phil Dierking
Phil Dierking adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by the Associated Press. Mario Ritter was the editor.
Should more landed be protected from drilling, or should the we be developing our energy resources? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
disposition – n. the act or power of officially or legally giving land, possessions, etc., to someone.
ecosystem – n. everything that exists in a particular environment.
legacy – n. something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past
permanent – adj. lasting or continuing for a very long time or forever : not temporary or changing.
reserve – n. a supply of something that is stored so that it can be used at a later time.
tourism – n. the activity of traveling to a place for pleasure.