The Obama administration announced Friday it is blocking new oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean, drawing criticism from Republican lawmakers and industry representatives who say the move will make the U.S. more dependent on foreign energy sources.
The five-year offshore drilling plan from 2017 to 2022 blocks the planned sale of new oil and gas leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska. The administration is allowing drilling to go forward in Alaska’s Cook Inlet.
President-elect Donald Trump, however, could rewrite the blueprint for drilling after he takes office in January.
“The plan focuses lease sales in the best places — those with the highest resource potential, lowest conflict and established infrastructure — and removes regions that are simply not right to lease,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “Given the unique and challenging Arctic environment and industry’s declining interest in the area, forgoing lease sales in the Arctic is the right path forward.”
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, vowed to overturn the administration’s five-year plan when Mr. Trump takes office.
“In its final days, the Obama administration is throwing up more barriers to American energy development,” Mr. Ryan said. “This plan to exclude the resource-rich Arctic from exploration possibilities squanders our ability to harness the abundant, affordable energy sources that power our economy. Our Better Way agenda outlines a plan to unleash our energy potential and create American jobs. That’s why we will work to overturn this plan, and to open up the Arctic and other offshore areas for development.”
House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, Utah Republican, said the Arctic has become a “prop” for Mr. Obama’s legacy with environmentalists.
“He has ignored pleas from generals, national security experts and Native Alaskan communities for responsible energy development,” Mr. Bishop said. “Today’s plan will chart a path of energy dependency for decades to come. We should be building on our position as a global energy leader, but we are punting it to Russia as Obama appeases the environmentalists pulling his strings. The American people are sick and tired of being ignored by a president who has never stepped foot on the North Slope.”
Environmentalists applauded the administration’s move.
Hitting the pause button on offshore drilling in the Arctic is exactly the right thing to do,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society. “Offshore drilling is a dirty and dangerous business, and removing the Arctic Ocean from the offshore leasing plan gives everyone time to think hard about how well water and oil mix.”
Barry Russell, president and CEO of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said the administration itself has forecast that the U.S. needs more oil and natural gas to meet its future demands.
“Instead, this administration is abandoning America’s energy potential and is threatening our role as a global energy superpower,” Mr. Russell said. “Locking up our offshore energy supplies will cause U.S. energy prices to rise, limiting the amount of hard-earned wages American families get to keep each month. It’s disappointing that this administration, with just two months left in office, has chosen to take the low, politically motivated path and dictate the nation’s offshore program for the entirety of President-elect Trump’s four-year term.”