Trump reverses Obama ban on Arctic energy exploration

Congressman Don Young looks on as President Donald Trump announces an executive order allowing offshore drilling, a reversal of a President Obama late-term order.


President Donald Trump threw Alaska’s future economy a life ring today, signing an executive order that directs the Department of Interior to reverse its ban on Arctic oil and gas exploration, which was imposed by President Barack Obama.

The order opens up federal waters again that were sealed off in December as Obama left office.

Prior to signing the order, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was standing next to Trump, leaned over the president and said, “North to the future is what we say in Alaska.”

Trump looked at her and responded, “We love Alaska.” He then signed the order and handed her the pen.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker issued a mild statement that neither criticized the Obama administration nor praised the magnitude of the policy reversal by Trump.

Gov. Walker said: “I am pleased with the announcement that areas of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas are once again open for consideration for future energy exploration and development. Last year, our administration made clear that we supported an Offshore Leasing Plan which balances subsistence concerns with our need for economic development, and as a result, made nominations consistent with those principles to the Department of Interior. Disappointingly, our recommendations were not only excluded from the Department’s plan, but those same areas were withdrawn from eligibility for inclusion in future plans. Today’s executive order is an important step towards spurring additional oil production through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.”

Tuckerman Babcock, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, responded to Walker’s statement with this: “Those are the words of a man who is not in the room.”

The measured tone of Walker’s statement is in line with his climate change-focused Lieutenant Governor, Byron Mallott, who is on record saying Alaska must move to a post-oil future: “We can see, likely, the end of the petroleum era…It will be hopefully an orderly transition. It will be a transition that is probably 25 or 50 years away, in terms of graduation to a different energy future.”

Mallott has been working on climate change policies for the Administration and worked closely with the Obama Administration on its climate change policy, which was much of the political motive underlying Obama’s exploration and development ban in federal arctic waters.

During his remarks, Trump repeated himself to emphasize the importance of his order on the Arctic: “It reverses the previous administration’s Arctic leasing ban. So hear that, it reverses the previous administration’s Arctic leasing ban.

“Today we’re unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying American energy jobs,” Trump said. “Our country is blessed with incredible natural resources, including abundant offshore oil and natural gas reserves.

“But the federal government has kept 94 percent of these offshore areas closed for exploration and production. This deprives our country of potentially thousands and thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in wealth,” Trump said.

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953 defines the OCS as all submerged lands lying off of state coastal waters, which extend three miles offshore. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, both agencies of the Department of Interior, are charged with management of the OCS.

Under the Obama Administration, 94 percent of the OCS was off-limits for development. Of the 1.7 billion acres, just 16.3 million are under lease, with 3,087 active leases. More than 97 percent of those leases are in the Gulf of Mexico. Altogether, the OCS provides 18 percent of domestic oil production and 4 percent of domestic natural gas production.

Shell had been in Alaska for nine years, working on a promising prospect in the Chukchi Sea. But it became the target of environmental activists, who blocked its ships from leaving port in Portland, Ore. and Seattle, Wash., and protested Shell’s every move in the Arctic’s Outer Continental Shelf. Shell also received slow-roll permitting treatment from the Obama Administration that seriously delayed the project and drove costs skyward at a time when oil prices were plummeting.

Shell wound down its Alaska efforts in 2015, eliminating over 125 high paying Alaska jobs.