Obama Bars Atlantic Offshore Oil Drilling in Policy Reversal

March 15, 2016


The Obama administration is reversing course on opening Atlantic waters to a new generation of oil and gas drilling, after a revolt by environmentalists and coastal communities that said the activity threatened marine life, fishing and tourism along the U.S. East Coast.

The proposed offshore leasing program being released Tuesday eliminates the administration’s initial plan to auction off drilling rights in as many as 104 million acres of the mid- and south-Atlantic in 2021, according to an Interior Department statement. The proposal also sets the stage for selling oil and gas leases in the Arctic waters of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, as well as Alaska’s Cook Inlet and the Gulf of Mexico, where 10 auctions were tentatively scheduled from 2017 to 2022.

"This is a balanced proposal that protects sensitive resources and supports safe and responsible development of the nation’s domestic energy resources to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. "The proposal focuses potential lease sales in areas with the highest resource potential, greatest industry interest and established infrastructure."

The Atlantic pullback is a major blow to the oil industry, delivered by a president who once promised an all-of-the-above approach to energy but is now moving aggressively to advance renewable power and cut the greenhouse gas emissions tied to burning fossil fuels. Energy companies had eyed the U.S. Atlantic, where drilling was abandoned decades ago because of high development costs, as a promising frontier, with the potential to supplement eventual production declines on shore.

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