Environmentalists Expect Tuesday Announcement on Offshore Drilling Ban

The Obama administration is expected to announce a permanent ban Tuesday on oil and gas offshore drilling in areas in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, according to Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Neil Lawrence.

The NRDC anticipates an announcement “taking large marine areas in the Atlantic and the Arctic off the table for oil and gas development,” Lawrence told reporters Tuesday at a roundtable discussion.

Bloomberg News and The New York Times on Monday cited sources saying President Barack Obama is expected to use his executive authority to permanently ban new oil and gas leases in certain portions of the Arctic and Atlantic.

The Obama administration took new leases in the Arctic and Atlantic off the table for the next five-year drilling plan, which covers the years 2017 to 2022, but environmentalists have called on the White House to use its authority under a 1953 law to permanently ban new leases. The law does not authorize later administrations to undo the actions.

The decision aims to protect environmentally sensitive areas from a possible oil spill, and to “guide American investment away from fossil fuels,” Lawrence said.

It’s unclear what President-elect Donald Trump or Republican lawmakers might do to push back against the expected decision, Lawrence said, adding that the NRDC believes the action is justified legally and scientifically.

“We are confident that, if attacked by the Trump administration, what the president does today will hold up,” Lawrence said.

Oliver Williams, spokesman for the Arctic Energy Center, a group backed by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, criticized the anticipated announcement but did not comment on what the next steps might be for supporters of offshore drilling.

“If the reports are true, this is a deeply frustrating development,” Williams said in a statement Tuesday. He said there is industry interest in buying future offshore leases in the Arctic, and noted that some Native Alaskan communities have expressed support for offshore drilling.

Morning Consult