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The Prirazlomnaya platform is the first Russian project for developing the Arctic shelf. Credit: Gazprom

Exxon Seeks to Bypass U.S. Sanctions to Drill in Russia

By Nika Knight

Exxon is applying for a waiver from the U.S. Treasury Department to bypass U.S. sanctions against Russia and resume offshore drilling in the Black Sea with the Russian oil company Rosneft, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Among those charged with deciding to grant the permit is Sec. of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon who previously oversaw the company's Russia operations.

"Ka-ching! Payout time," tweeted Rachel Maddow in response to the Wall Street Journal report.

Exxon was previously granted a permit to bypass the sanctions in 2014. Tillerson has said that he would recuse himself from Russia-related matters for two years as Secretary of State.

The permit application also comes as calls grow for a government shutdown over the ties between Trump advisors and Russian officials. The FBI is currently investigating the Trump campaign's Russia connections.

And beyond the Trump campaign's apparent Russia ties and the implications of Tillerson's potential role in granting his former company the permit, environmentalists also pointed out the devastating climate impacts of further drilling in the Black Sea.

"If the Trump administration allows Exxon to move forward with extreme offshore oil drilling in Russia despite sanctions, the United States Congress must resist," said Greenpeace USA climate liability campaigner Naomi Ages in a statement. "Removing barriers to Exxon drilling in the Russian Black Sea with a state-controlled company like Rosneft would not only jeopardize global progress on climate change and provide momentum for a similar waiver in the Russian Arctic, it would also send a message to Russia that it can intervene in any country, including the United States, with no consequences."

"Members of Congress must stand up for the separation of oil and state," Ages urged.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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Alaska Senators Introduce Bill to Expand Offshore Oil Drilling in Arctic Ocean and Cook Inlet

Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans from Alaska, have introduced legislation to expand oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean and Cook Inlet, putting fragile ecosystems and endangered wildlife at risk.

In December, President Obama permanently protected large areas of U.S. waters in the Arctic from oil and gas drilling. The new bill—Senate Bill 883—would effectively cancel these protections and force the Department of the Interior to quickly approve new oil and gas leasing.

"It's not possible to drill safely in the Arctic, as we just saw from the leaking oil and gas well on the North Slope," said Miyoko Sakashita, ocean programs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "This legislation's nothing more than a giveaway to oil companies. It'll hurt Alaska's healthy habitat and endangered wildlife."

S. 883 would require Interior to add at least three leases each in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and one in Cook Inlet to each five-year leasing plan. The agency would be required to establish a new near-shore Beaufort planning area with annual lease sales for the next three years.

The bill would also overturn President Obama's decision to stop exploration and drilling permanently in most of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas under Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. These areas are home to several endangered species, including polar bears and bowhead whales.

"If we let oil companies drill the Arctic, a catastrophic oil spill is just a matter of time," Sakashita said. "It's shameful that the Alaska congressional delegation has so little regard for the horrendous damage the oil industry could do to this fragile ecosystem and the people who live and work along this coast."

Leading climate scientists say the vast majority of untapped fossil fuels must stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic, irreversible changes to the climate. Unleased federal waters contain an estimated 75 billion barrels of crude oil, more than twice that of unleased federal lands. Stopping the expansion of new leases in federal waters would keep 61.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere and oceans.

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Beluga whale pod. Photo credit: Laura Morse/ NOAA

340 Beluga Whales Threatened by Another Pipeline Leak in Alaska's Cook Inlet

Hilcorp Alaska reported Saturday an oil leak from a pipeline in Alaska's Cook Inlet. The oil spilled from the offshore pipeline south of Tyonek is in a critical habitat for the gravely endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales, whose numbers have dwindled to 340 individuals. This leak is unrelated to the gas leak from another one of its pipelines that has been ongoing since December.

"At first, I hoped that news of this latest oil leak was an April fool's joke because it seemed like Hilcorp couldn't spring another leak so soon," said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. We're really worried about what this means for Cook Inlet belugas with the double whammy of an oil spill and gas leak in the same season."

The cause of the leak is unknown and oil sheens have been reported in the area. The company said it has shut-in production at the platforms, known as Anna and Bruce, that are connected by the leaking pipeline. Reports this morning confirm that the leak has stopped, but the risk to wildlife is unknown. These platforms were installed in 1966 and aging infrastructure and severe tides in the Cook Inlet make them vulnerable to incidents. The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has also repeatedly cited Hilcorp for violating safety regulations for its oil and gas operations in the state.

"It's clear that there's no safe way to drill for oil in the ocean. This is the same company that plans to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean, a place that is much more dangerous for oil drilling with severe storms and ice," Sakashita said. "Hilcorp keeps springing leaks in Cook Inlet and it should certainly not be allowed to build the Liberty project in the Beaufort Sea."

The Center for Biological Diversity has sent Hilcorp a 60-day notice of its intent to sue for the ongoing gas leak and it is monitoring the new oil leak to determine whether legal action is warranted.

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Where We Drill, We Spill: Commemorating Exxon Valdez

By Franz Matzner

Twenty eight years ago today the world experienced a massive wake-up call on the hazards and harms of oil spills when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker split open and poured oil into Alaskan waters.

At the time, images of oil coated wildlife and a devastated ecosystem in one of the world's most delicate, iconic and majestic environments drew global attention. Today, oil still lurks under the surface of Prince William Sound, impairing wildlife and human lives.

Eleven years later, BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers and spreading millions of gallons of crude throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

Gulf communities are still trying to recover from this devastating blow to local economies and human health. Years of legal challenge and delay by the oil industry meant those least able to absorb the blow to their way of life abandoned and foundering.

In the aftermath of the BP disaster, a non-partisan, blue ribbon commission was established to provide recommendations to mitigate the risk of future events, providing hope to communities already exposed to oil drilling that finally their voices would be heard.

Despite these consensus proposals, adequate safety reforms have never been formulated, let alone implemented and even the progress that has been made is at risk.

As I write, crude oil is flowing into the Mississippi and a gas leak in Alaska's Cook Inlet is ongoing—and has been for more than three months. Sea ice is making repairs impossible, underscoring again the unique challenges of oil and gas exploration in Alaska's frozen and tumultuous waters.

But it's not just the major, headline dominating spills that are degrading our environment and impacting human health. Wired reported in December that there are about 30,000 oil spills per year in U.S. waters, most of which are in the Gulf of Mexico. It's being killed, literally, by a thousand cuts. Nor are spills the only concern. Ongoing operations produce other pollutants, including toxic metals and carcinogens, that are dumped into the ocean. A toxic mix of metals, fluids and other drilling bi-products harm marine ecosystems and are suspected in increasing mercury levels in some fish populations. To say nothing of the infrastructure development that can rip apart habitats and the industries that rely on them.

Adding insult to injury, the agencies responsible for managing our publicly owned ocean resources have been identified by the Government Accountability Office as "high risk." The Government Accountability Office is a nonpartisan "congressional watchdog" that seeks to identify performance issues and inefficiencies in the federal government. Its high risk designation, granted to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement in 2016, indicates that the agency charged with limiting offshore oil spills is not doing its job effectively. Just this week, in fact, the Government Accountability Office released a report expanding on its findings about the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. And the House Oversight committee held a hearing on oil well safety, which focused on that report and further exposed the lack of meaningful safety measures as well as the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement's significant lack of staffing and resources.

Fortunately, at the close of the previous administration, bold actions were taken to preserve and protect large swaths of our Arctic and Atlantic oceans from future oil disasters. These decisions came in direct response to the broad and unwavering call from all corners of the country to stop the expansion of oil drilling into these public waters and recognized that the rapid growth of clean energy means there is simply no need to expose our still oil-free beaches, local economies and climate to the inherent harms of offshore drilling.

This victory is something that should be built on. Yet the Trump administration's oil cabinet and its allies in Congress have instead launched a systematic attack to do precisely the opposite, opening the door for these vital oceans owned by all American's to be sold and exploited at the behest of select private oil companies.

The very first piece of legislation signed by President Trump was a gift to Exxon and global despots, designed to make it easier for oil, gas and coal companies to bribe foreign governments without accountability.

The Trump "starvation" budget would axe funding to the already beleaguered and under resourced agencies tasked with managing oil drilling safety risks, effectively taking what few cops are left off the beat.

And to complete the package, legislation is being proposed in the House and Senate that would open the door to a radical expansion of offshore drilling. One proposal would overturn recently finalized drilling safety standards specifically designed to meet recommendations made by the Oil Spill Commission.

Draft legislation being circulated by Rep. Bratt (R-VA) and another bill introduced by Sen. Cassidy (R-LA) would remove current permanent protections in the Arctic Ocean, along the Atlantic coast and in Alaska's Bristol Bay, bar any future President from providing such protections and gut the underlying law that ensures public input into how public resources are utilized.

Extreme by any measure, these legislative proposals should be rejected, even by those who do not oppose offshore drilling. It is simply unconscionable to discount the documented safety, environmental and health risks that come with offshore drilling and to put in place a system designed to exclude the coastal residents most in harm's way, flout the science of climate change and flatly reject the basic principles of responsible management of our public lands and oceans.

Fortunately, across the country millions of concerned citizens, communities, businesses and local residents are ready to stand strong against this attempt to rob future generations of our pristine beaches, healthy oceans and a stable climate.

Urge your Members of Congress to oppose Big Oil's plan to bring Big Spills back to our beaches. Ask them to instead cosponsor legislation to protect our oceans, communities and climate. You can reach your Representative and Senators through the Capitol switchboard, at (202) 224-3121.

Franz Matzner directs the Natural Resources Defense Council's's Beyond Oil Initiative, which aims to lessen America's dependence on energy derived from fossil fuels.

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Exxon, Russia Eye Oil and Gas in Disputed South China Sea

By Steve Horn

President Donald Trump's newly sworn-in Secretary of State, recently retired ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, turned heads when he expressed support for an aggressive military stance against China's actions in the disputed South China Sea during his Senate committee hearing and in response to questions from Democratic Party Committee members.

Tillerson's views on China and the South China Sea territory appear even more concerning against the backdrop of recently aired comments made by Trump's increasingly powerful chief strategist, Steve Bannon, that the two nations were headed toward war in the next five to 10 years, as reported by the Independent (UK). However, what Tillerson did not reveal in his answers is that Exxon, as well as Russian state-owned companies Gazprom and Rosneft, have been angling to tap into the South China Sea's offshore oil and gas bounty.

WhiteHouse.gov

"We're going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops," Tillerson said at his hearing, speaking of the man-made islands China's military has created in the South China Sea and uses as a military base. "And second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed."

Tillerson, who came under fire during his hearing for maintaining close business ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, was asked for further clarification on what he thinks the U.S. posture toward China should be in one of dozens of questions sent to him by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD). In responding, Tillerson spelled out the bellicose stance he believes the U.S. should take toward China, a country Trump has often said should be handled with a metaphorical iron fist.

U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary and Communications Director, echoed this in a recent press briefing, stating that, "The U.S. is going to make sure that we protect our interests there."

"It's a question of if those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then yeah, we're going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country," said Spicer.

While President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a rather hawkish U.S. foreign policy stance toward China known as the Pacific "pivot," these developments under the new administration appear to take tensions with China to a new level.

The Chinese government sees the Trump White House and Tillerson's recent statements, if carried out, as an act of "war" toward the country, which Beijing says would not be allowed to stand unchallenged.

A DeSmog investigation shows that "our interests" (to quote Spicer) overlap suspiciously often with those of ExxonMobil, Gazprom and Rosneft.

South China Sea, Exxon, Gazprom

Exxon's offshore oil and gas ties in the region circle the South China Sea from Vietnam and the Philippines to Indonesia and Malaysia. Gazprom also maintains business ties with Vietnam. While most western oil majors have veered away from tapping into this oil and gas, Exxon has not shied away.

"Unlike other Western oil majors, which have usually taken a wait-and-see approach when drilling in the disputed waters, ExxonMobil appeared unfazed by the political uncertainty in the region and maintained extensive business links with almost every Southeast Asian country," wrote the South China Morning Post.

A leaked 2006 U.S. State Department cable published by Wikileaks shows that "China began to warn oil majors against conducting oil exploration activities in the disputed South China Sea in 2006, the year Tillerson became ExxonMobil's chairman and chief executive," the Morning Post further detailed.

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration data from 2013, the South China Sea contains 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

U.S. Energy Information Administration

As Lee Fang and I recently revealed for The Intercept, while Tillerson served as CEO of Exxon, the U.S.Department of State directly intervened on the company's behalf to help the company win favorable financial terms to tap into that offshore oil and gas in countries which own offshore oil and gas in the South China Sea in both Vietnam and Indonesia.

Vietnam

On Jan. 12, the New York Times became the first news outlet to dig into Exxon's bounty of South China Sea offshore oil and gas and how it could possibly relate to Tillerson's hardline views on the disputed territory there.

"What is also not clear is the extent to which Mr. Tillerson's tough stance on the South China Sea springs from his extensive experience in the region during his time as chief executive of ExxonMobil, when his company became embroiled in bitter territorial disputes over the extensive oil and gas reserves beneath the seafloor," wrote the Times. "During his tenure, the company forged close ties to the Vietnamese government, signing an agreement in 2009 with a state-owned firm to drill for oil and gas in two areas in the South China Sea."

That agreement was completed with a "quiet signing given sensitivities with China," according to a State Department cable published by Wikileaks. ExxonMobil Vietnam's then-President Russ Berkoben told the State Department that "although EM is uncertain of China's reaction, it is ready if China reacts," according to the cable. The deal made Exxon the largest offshore acreage holder in Vietnam, with 14 million acres to explore and tap into.

In 2008, the South China Morning Post reported that Exxon had "been approached by Chinese envoys and told to pull out of preliminary oil deals with Vietnam." Vietnam stood its ground, telling China that Exxon and other companies had a right to drill in its territorial sea under its laws.

Three years later in 2011, Exxon said it had "encountered hydrocarbons" in the area during its exploratory drilling in a company statement. China reacted with fury, moving its own state-owned oil platform, belonging to China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CONOC), to the same area in 2014.

U.S. Secretary of State at the time John Kerry called CONOC's move "aggressive" and "provocative," with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi telling Kerry to "speak and act cautiously" on the issue.

On Jan. 13, PetroVietnam and Exxon announced a $10 billion deal to build a natural gas power plant in the country, set to be sourced with the gas Exxon will tap from the South China Sea via the Ca Voi Xanh offshore field. Exxon will also ship the gas to Vietnam via one of its underwater pipelines.

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Amazing Underwater Photos Reveal Newly Discovered Brazilian Coral Reef

Greenpeace Brazil has captured the first underwater images of the Amazon Reef, a 9,500 km2 system of corals, sponges and rhodoliths located where the Amazon River meets the Atlantic Ocean—an area that the Brazilian government has opened for oil exploration.

A team of experts, including several oceanographers who announced the discovery of the reef last year, have joined the Greenpeace ship Esperanza on an expedition to document this new biome, which runs from French Guyana to the Brazilian state of Maranhão, an area larger than the cities of São Paulo or London. Oil companies Total and BP could start drilling in this area if they obtain authorization from the Brazilian government.

The team was searching in a submarine launched from the Esperanza at 220 meters depth, more than 100 kilometers off the Brazilian coast, when the reef came into view for the first time.

"This reef system is important for many reasons, including the fact that it has unique characteristics regarding use and availability of light and physicochemical water conditions. It has a huge potential for new species and it is also important for the economic well-being of fishing communities along the Amazonian Coastal Zone," said Nils Asp, researcher at the Federal University of Pará.

Greenpeace

"Our team wants to have a better understanding of how this ecosystem works, including important questions like its photosynthesis mechanisms with very limited light. Hopefully, this will lead to a gradual mapping of the reef system. At the moment, less than 5 percent of the ecosystem is mapped." continued Asp.

While experts have just started to study the reef and its implications, oil companies Total and BP are already planning to explore the area for potential oil drilling. It is estimated that reserves are approximately 15 to 20 billion barrels.

"We must defend the reef and the entire region at the mouth of the Amazon River basin from the corporate greed that puts profits ahead of the environment. One of Total's oil blocks is only eight kilometers from the reef and environmental licensing processes are already under way," said Thiago Almeida, campaigner at Greenpeace Brazil.

"After ratifying the Paris agreement, Brazilian President Michel Temer declared that the climate issue is an obligation for all governments. If Brazil's commitment is serious, we must prevent the exploration of oil in the region and keep fossil fuels in the ground to avoid climate catastrophe," Almeida continued.

Greenpeace

Drilling in this area would mean a constant risk of an oil spill. The Cape Orange National Park, the northernmost point of the Brazilian state of Amapá, is home to the world's largest continuous mangrove ecosystem and there is no technology capable of cleaning up oil in a location with its characteristics. In addition, the risks in this area are increased due to the strong currents and sediment that the Amazon River carries. So far, 95 wells have been drilled in the region, 27 of which were abandoned as a result of mechanical incidents—the rest due to the absence of economically or technically viable gas and oil.

American Manatee (Trichechus Manatu) in the Amazon.Greenpeace

The mouth of the Amazon River basin is home to the American manatee, the Amazon River's yellow tortoise, dolphins and the river otter—an endangered species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It is also home to communities of local fishermen and more than 80 Quilombola communities that rely economically on the area.

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Photo credit: Fish & Wildlife Research Institute

Obama Denies All Pending Permits for Seismic Airgun Blasting in Atlantic Ocean

By Claire Douglass

The Obama administration formally denied today all pending permits to conduct seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean. Seismic airgun blasting, an extremely loud and dangerous process used to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean's surface, was originally proposed in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida.

This announcement follows several recent historic moves by the Obama administration to decrease America's dependence on dirty fossil fuels, including the removal of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans from the five year program (from 2017-2022) for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf and the permanent protection of important areas of the Atlantic and Arctic from future offshore drilling.

We thank the Obama administration for finishing the job in protecting the Atlantic Ocean from offshore drilling activities.

East Coast communities can finally take a well-deserved sigh of relief knowing that their ocean and economies are currently spared from dangerous seismic airgun blasting.

With offshore drilling off the table for the near future, there was absolutely no reason to risk the damage that would be caused by seismic airgun blasting in the region.

President Obama and Director Hopper should be revered for their leadership in transitioning the U.S. away from expanded offshore drilling and toward a cleaner energy economy, including the development of renewable energy sources such as offshore wind.

Over the last few years, Hopper and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management have made it a priority to listen to all stakeholders, from the interests of the oil and gas industry to the East Coast fishing and tourism economies.

As of today, more than 120 East Coast municipalities, more than 1,200 elected officials and an alliance representing more than 35,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families have publicly opposed offshore drilling and/or seismic airgun blasting. These individuals and groups understand that nearly 1.4 million jobs and more than $95 billion in gross domestic product are at risk if dangerous oil activities occur in the Atlantic Ocean.

We know that seismic airgun blasting is dangerous. Seismic airguns create one of the loudest manmade sounds in the ocean, firing intense blasts of compressed air every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks to months on end. The noise from these blasts is so loud that it can be heard up to 2,500 miles from the source, which is approximately the distance from Washington, DC to Las Vegas.

In addition to being extremely loud, these blasts are of special concern to marine life, including fish, turtles and whales, which depend on sound for communication and survival. Numerous studies demonstrate the negative impacts that seismic airgun noise has on ocean ecosystems, including reduced catch rates of commercially valuable fish and silencing bowhead whales.

The government's own estimates state that seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic could injure as many as 138,000 marine mammals like dolphins and whales, while disturbing the vital activities of millions more.

In 2015, 75 leading marine scientists sent a letter to President Obama on the impacts of seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean, stating that "the magnitude of the proposed seismic activity is likely to have significant, long-lasting, and widespread impacts on the reproduction and survival of fish and marine mammal populations in the region, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which approximately only 500 remain."

Today's decision comes from a visionary president dedicated to preserving the marine environment and furthering a legacy of action against climate change. We applaud the Obama administration for protecting the Atlantic Ocean for generations to come.

Nick Cobbing / Greenpeace

Eyeing Trump, Obama Bans Arctic Drilling

By Steve Horn

President Obama announced Tuesday what amounts to a ban of offshore drilling in huge swaths of continental shelf in both the Alaskan Arctic Ocean and Atlantic Ocean, a decision which came after years of pushing by environmental groups.

Using authority derived from Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the White House banned drilling in a 115 acre area making up 98 percent of federally owned lands in the Alaskan Arctic and a 3.8 million acre stretch of the Atlantic extending from Norfolk, Virginia, to the Canadian border. By taking this route, rather than issuing an Executive Order, Obama made it legally difficult for Republican President-elect Donald Trump's administration to reverse this action.

Environmental groups and Democratic senators have praised the decision, while Republican congressional members and industry groups have denounced it.

"Today … the United States is taking historic steps to build a strong Arctic economy, preserve a healthy Arctic ecosystem and protect our fragile Arctic waters, including designating the bulk of our Arctic water and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean as indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas leasing," the White House said in a statement, which also pointed to the "need to continue to move decisively away from fossil fuels," as guided by climate science.

President-elect Donald Trump is a climate change denier who repeatedly promised on the campaign trail and during his post-election "Victory Tour" that he would "unleash" more hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") of oil and gas, and push for more "clean coal" production. Trump also supports increased offshore drilling.

Industry, Republicans React

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, came out strongly against the Obama administration's move.

"The only thing more shocking than this reckless, short-sighted, last-minute gift to the extreme environmental agenda is that President Obama had the nerve to claim he is doing Alaska a favor," she said in a press release, which featured the state's congressional delegation slamming Obama for making the decision.

"President Obama has once again treated the Arctic like a snow globe, ignoring the desires of the people who live, work and raise a family there. I cannot wait to work with the next administration to reverse this decision."

Murkowski, a climate change denier who said she did not vote for Trump and called for him to drop out of the race on Oct. 8, is a major recipient of oil and gas industry campaign money. She has taken $1,353,794 from the industry throughout her congressional career.

Murkowski and the Alaska delegation were not alone in their denouncement of the Obama maneuver, with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also bemoaning it on Twitter. Ryan has taken $1,223,182 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry during his congressional career.

Industry groups such as the Consumer Energy Alliance, American Petroleum Institute (API), and Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) all scoffed at the Obama decision in press statements.

"We disagree with this last-minute political rhetoric coming from the Obama administration and contest this decision by the outgoing administration as disingenuous," said IPAA in a press release. "With exactly one month left in office, President Obama chose to succumb to environmental extremists demands to keep our nation's affordable and abundant energy supplies away from those who need it the most by keeping them in the ground."

Cautious Optimism

However, Democratic Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have shown support for the current administration's move.

Meanwhile, environmental groups praised the decision, but noted the likelihood that the incoming Trump administration will attempt to challenge it. In addition, groups pointed to the action's limits, as oil and gas drilling will continue in the Gulf of Mexico and exploration could proceed in large swaths of the Atlantic.

"This is an important move, but we're still looking forward to the day when all communities are protected from fossil fuel development," May Boeve, 350.org's executive director, said in a press release. "Everyone deserves the right to safe environment and the benefits of a clean energy economy. That includes those in the Gulf and other areas facing dangerous oil, gas, and coal expansion."

Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana's senior vice president for the U.S., also called for the Obama administration to lock in a ban of seismic airgun blasting in the southern portion of the U.S. Atlantic Ocean offshore continental shelf.

"As we celebrate this important step forward, we must not forget that a vast stretch of water from Delaware to Florida is still at risk from unnecessary seismic airgun blasting, an extremely loud and dangerous process used to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean's surface," Savitz said in a press release. "Seismic airguns create one of the loudest manmade sounds in the ocean, firing intense blasts of compressed air every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks to months on end."

"The government's own estimates state that seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic could injure as many as 138,000 marine mammals like dolphins and whales, while disturbing the vital activities of millions more," Savitz continued. "With offshore drilling off the table for the near future, permits for seismic airgun blasting should be denied."

Uncharted Waters

One key question, of course, is what will take place next in U.S. federal courts after the almost certain challenge from the oil and gas industry. It is "unchartered waters," both literally and figuratively, according to one expert.

"It's never been done before," Patrick Parenteau, professor of environmental law at the University of Vermont, told The New York Times. "There is no case law on this. It's uncharted waters."

The industry, though, has pointed to a precedent of 12(a) protections being reversed. The New York Times reported that after President Bill Clinton used this legal action to "withdraw 300 million acres from oil and gas drilling from an area that had already been designated as a marine sanctuary, President George W. Bush reinstated about 50 million acres to fossil fuel leases."

Andrew Radford, API's senior policy advisor for offshore operations, told The Times that he sees the Bush precedent will be the one pursued by API, its industry allies, and the Trump administration to reverse Obama's move.

"Similar to how President Bush issued a memo in 2008 to add areas back in, we're hopeful that the Trump administration will take a look at this to reverse that decision and we look forward to working with them to make that happen," Radford said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.

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