Judge scraps Trump order opening offshore Arctic, Atlantic areas to leasing

A federal judge in Alaska has overturned US President Donald Trump’s attempt to open vast areas of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans to oil and gas leasing, according to Reuters.

Offshore staff

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A federal judge in Alaska has overturned US President Donald Trump’s attempt to open vast areas of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans to oil and gas leasing, according to Reuters.

The decision issued last Friday by US District Court Judge Sharon Gleason leaves intact President Barack Obama’s policies putting the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea, part of the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea, and a large swath of Atlantic Ocean off the US East Coast off-limits to oil leasing.

According to the report, Trump’s attempt to undo Obama’s protections was “unlawful” and a violation of the federal Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, Gleason ruled. Presidents have the power under that law to withdraw areas from the national oil and gas leasing program, as Obama did, but only Congress has the power to add areas to the leasing program, she said.

The Obama-imposed leasing prohibitions “will remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress,” Gleason said in her ruling and Reuters reported.

Trump’s move to put offshore Arctic and Atlantic areas back into play for oil development came in a2017 executive order that was part of his “energy dominance” agenda. The order was among a series of actions that jettisoned the Obama administration’s environmental and climate change initiatives.

The Trump administration has proposed a vastly expanded offshore oil leasing program to start this year. The five-year leasing program would offer two lease sales a year in Arctic waters and at least two lease sales a year in the Atlantic. The plan also calls for several lease sales in remote marine areas off Alaska, like the southern Bering Sea, according to the report.

Gleason, in a separate case, delivered another decision Friday that blocks the Trump administration’s effort to overturn an Obama-era environmental decision.

She struck down a land trade intended to clear the way for a road to be built though sensitive wetlands in Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, according to the report. The Obama administration, after a four-year environmental impact statement process, determined that the land trade and road would cause too much harm to the refuge to be justified.Trump’s then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke broke the law when he summarily reversed the Obama policy without addressing the facts found in the previous administration’s study of the issue, Gleason ruled.

In response, National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) PresidentRandall Luthi said the court ruling was not the end for Arctic OCS energy development.

“Friday’s court decision, while troubling, is not the death knell to potential exploration and development of offshore energy resources off the coast of Alaska. The administration has the option of continuing to evaluate areas outside the Obama withdrawal, and could continue its evaluation of the withdrawn areas with the caveat that such areas could or could not be open depending on further judicial review,” Luthi said.

“NOIA encourages the administration to appeal the decision of the Obama appointed judge to the Ninth Circuit and be prepared to appeal to the Supreme Court should that be necessary. The District Court’s narrow interpretation is one view of the language contained in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, (OCSLA) and does not fully incorporate OCSLA’s five-year planning process that allows changes based upon new resource information or energy needs of the United States,” he said. “A court with more experience and knowledge of the full breadth of the Executive Branch may very well come to a different conclusion.”


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