WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday banned new oil and gas drilling in federal waters in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, in a push to leave his stamp on the environment before Republican Donald Trump takes office next month.
Obama used a 1950s-era law called the Outer Continental Shelf Act that allows presidents to limit areas from mineral leasing and drilling. Environmental groups said that meant Trump's incoming administration would have to go court if it sought to reverse the move.
The ban affects 115 million acres (46.5 million hectares) of federal waters off Alaska in the Chukchi Sea and most of the Beaufort Sea and 3.8 million acres (1.5 million hectares) in the Atlantic from New England to Chesapeake Bay.
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Barack Obama through the years
Barack Obama through the years
Barack Obama, candidate for a Senate seat in Illinois and one of the keynote speakers of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, addresses delegates during the second night of the event at the FleetCenter in Boston, July 27, 2004. More than 4,000 delegates to the convention will nominate John Kerry on Wednesday to challenge President George W. Bush in a November battle for the White House that is essentially a dead heat. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn US ELECTION HB/
Illinois U.S. Senate candidate Democrat Barack Obama (2nd R), wife Michelle and their daughters Malia (R), 3, and Sasha (L), 6, spend time in their Chicago hotel room, November 2, 2004. Obama faces Republican candidate Alan Keys in the first Senate race with two African American candidates. REUTERS/John Gress JG
Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) (L), Hillary Clinton (D-NY) (2nd L), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) (R) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (2nd R) listen as Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) addresses a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington November 17, 2005. Obama said that Americans are looking for leadership and can do better than what they have gotten from Washington in 2004. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) (R) and Barack Obama (D-IL) hold a news conference on a vote raising the federal minimum wage on Capitol Hill in Washington February 1, 2007. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES)
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) smiles beside Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) at a rally at American University in Washington January 28, 2008. Kennedy, a Democratic icon and a leading liberal voice, endorsed Obama on Monday for the party's presidential nomination and called the young lawmaker an inspirational uniter. REUTERS/Mike Theiler (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), greets entertainer and talk show host Oprah Winfrey at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, December 8, 2007. Iowa holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses for the 2008 presidential election on January 3. REUTERS/Ramin Rahimian (UNITED STATES)
US Democratic presidential candidates Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and former Senator John Edwards (D-NC) talk during a Martin Luther King Day rally at the state capitol in Columbia, South Carolina January 21, 2008. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (C) reacts as he holds a baby at a rally in Columbia, South Carolina, January 20, 2008. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) (L) points to the crowd as Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) looks on after his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado August 28, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
Democratic presidential nominee U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) embraces his wife Michelle after giving his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado August 28, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with well-wishers at Hradcanske Square in central Prague April 5, 2009. As long as a potential nuclear threat persists from Iran, the United States will continue pushing plans for missile defense, U.S. President Barak Obama said on Sunday. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger (CZECH REPUBLIC POLITICS)
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (C) meets U.S. Senators Richard G. Luger of Indiana (R) and Barrack Obama of Ilinois (L) for talks at the Prime Minister's official residence in Downing Street in London, September 1, 2005. REUTERS/ Alessandro Abbonizo/ Pool TM/JV
U.S. President Barack Obama signs the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 into law at the U.S. Department of Interior in Washington, December 22, 2010. From L-R are (standing): Vice President Joseph Biden, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen, former U.S. Navy Commander Zoe Dunning, former USMC StaffSgt. Eric Alva, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa), Rep. Susan Davis (D-Ca), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY IMAGES OF THE DAY)
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) enjoys a beer with Dakota Meyer on the patio outside of the White House Oval Office, in this handout photograph taken on September 14, 2011 and released on September 15. The president on Thursday will present Meyer with the Medal of Honor for courageous actions taken while serving as a then U.S. Marine Corps Corporal, part of a Marine embedded training team in Afghanistan on September 8, 2009, the White House statement said. REUTERS/Pete Souza/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dance while the band Earth, Wind and Fire performs at the Governors Ball in the State Dining Room of the White House, in this handout photograph taken on February 22, 2009 and later released by the White House. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout (UNITED STATES POLITICS) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama, along with Cabinet Secretaries and Members of Congress, watch a shot during a basketball game on the White House court in this handout photo taken in Washington on October 8, 2009 and later released by the White House. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout
U.S. President Barack Obama eats a nectarine following a town hall meeting at Kroger's Supermarket in this handout photo taken in Bristol, Virginia. on July 29, 2009 and later released by the White House. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout
U.S. President Barack Obama listens during a briefing on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, while aboard Air Force One en route to New Orleans, Louisiana, in this White House handout photo taken on May 2, 2010 and released on June 7, 2010. Picture taken May 2, 2010. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENVIRONMENT ENERGY DISASTER) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama and his daughter Sasha swim at Alligator Point in Panama City Beach, Florida, August 14, 2010. Declaring Gulf Coast beaches "open for business," Obama visited Florida on Saturday and pledged to restore the economy and the environment of the region damaged by the BP Plc oil spill. Obama, on his fifth visit to the region since BP's deep-sea well in the Gulf of Mexico ruptured on April 20, held talks with local business owners to hear their concerns about the impact of the world's worst offshore oil spill. REUTERS/Pete Souza-The White House/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENERGY ENVIRONMENT DISASTER IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) and Vice President Joe Biden (L), along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Also pictured are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2nd R) and Defense Secretary Robert Gates (R). In the decade since the Sept. 11 2001 attacks, U.S. Special Operations Command personnel numbers have doubled, its budget tripled and deployments quadrupled. The Bin Laden takedown is simply the tip of an iceberg of fast-growing, largely hidden action by the United States and its allies. Those with knowledge of such operations say this changing state of warfare could spark a range of unintended consequences, from jeopardizing diplomatic relationships to unwanted, wider wars. Please note: A classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured at source. Picture taken May 1, 2011. To match Analysis CONFLICT/COVERTOPS REUTERS/White House/Pete Souza/Handout/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
U.S. President Barack Obama shoots clay targets with a shotgun on the range at Camp David, Maryland, in this White House handout photo taken August 4, 2012. REUTERS/White House/Pete Souza/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L to R) , U.S. President Barack Obama, and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel watch the overtime shootout of the Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich Champions League final in the Laurel Cabin conference room during the G8 Summit at Camp David, Maryland, May 19, 2012. REUTERS/White House/ Pete Souza/POOL (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SPORT SOCCER)
WASHINGTON - MARCH 23: U.S. President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Health Care for America Act during a ceremony with fellow Democrats in the East Room of the White House March 23, 2010 in Washington, DC. The historic bill was passed by the House of Representatives Sunday after a 14-month-long political battle that left the legislation without a single Republican vote. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama and his daughters Malia (L) and Sasha, watch on television as first lady Michelle Obama takes the stage to deliver her speech at the Democratic National Convention, in the Treaty Room of the White House in Washington September 4, 2012.
REUTERS/White House/Pete Souza/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama walks onstage with daughter Sasha (2R), First lady Michelle Obama (2L) and daughter Malia (L) before giving his election night victory speech in Chicago, November 7, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS USA PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION)
U.S. President Barack Obama talks to the media as he signs into law S. 337: FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 and S. 2328: Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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Trump, who succeeds Obama on Jan. 20, has said he would expand offshore oil and gas drilling. A recent memo from his energy transition team said his policy could increase production in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, as well as the mid- and south Atlantic.
A Trump representative did not immediately comment on the announcement.
Even if Trump tries to fight the move, few energy companies have expressed a desire to drill anytime soon off the coasts thanks to abundant cheap shale oil in North Dakota and Texas.
Exploratory drilling in the Arctic is expensive and risky. Shell Oil ended its quest to explore in harsh Arctic waters in 2015, after a vessel it was using suffered a gash and environmentalists uncovered a law that limited its drilling.
The American Petroleum Institute oil industry group disagreed about the permanence of the ban and said Trump could likely use a presidential memorandum to lift it.
"We are hopeful the incoming administration will reverse this decision as the nation continues to need a robust strategy for developing offshore and onshore energy," said Erik Milito, API's upstream director.
JOINT ACTION WITH CANADA
The White House and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau jointly announced their move to launch "actions ensuring a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem."
Obama said in a statement that the joint actions "reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region's harsh conditions is limited."
Canada will designate all Arctic Canadian waters as indefinitely off limits to future offshore Arctic oil and gas licensing, to be reviewed every five years through a climate and marine science-based life-cycle assessment.
The law under which Obama is acting enables a president to withdraw certain areas from leasing or drilling "for any public purpose," such as to limit the impacts of climate change, according to a legal briefing by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earth Justice.
Under that law, a president is not authorized to "undo" a previous withdrawal, making it more difficult for Trump to target without a lawsuit.
"No president has ever tried to undo a permanent withdrawal of an ocean area from leasing eligibility," said Niel Lawrence, Alaska director and attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The provision has been used by six presidents from both parties over the past 65 years, including to withdraw as much as several hundred million acres at a time, he said.
'SMART BUSINESS DECISION'
In 2015, just 0.1 percent of U.S. federal offshore crude production came from the Arctic. At current oil prices, significant production in the Arctic will not occur, according to a Department of Interior analysis.
There is currently no crude oil production in the Canadian Arctic. A number of companies including Chevron Corp, ConocoPhillips and Imperial Oil hold exploration licenses, but all three have put their drilling plans on hold, partly because of weak global oil prices.
On the U.S. Atlantic coast, local groups have opposed offshore drilling and would fight the Trump administration's attempts to open it up.
"The people of the Atlantic coast have refused to allow their way of life to be compromised," said Jacqueline Savitz, senior vice president of Florida-based ocean conservancy group Oceana.
She said the Obama administration move to protect the Atlantic coast was a "smart business decision" since it would protect the lucrative tourism and fishing industries of East Coast communities.
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Romantic photos of President Obama and Michelle Obama
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1. Secret Service agents avert their eyes as the Obamas share a private moment on Inauguration Day 2009.