President Obama announced on Tuesday a ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and along the Atlantic coast from Virginia to Maine, a move that would protect more than one hundred million acres of federal land as a last-ditch effort to shore up and preserve Obama’s environmental legacy before Donald Trump takes office in January. The ban on 98 percent of federally owned Arctic waters was negotiated and enacted alongside a similar ban in the Canadian Arctic signed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“These actions, and Canada’s parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth,” the Obama said in a statement. “They 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.
Critics point out that that this order is relatively whimsical. Just last year, the Obama administration gave the go-ahead to Royal Dutch Shell to drill into the ocean floor off the northwest coast of Alaska, making it the first drilling there in 20 years. Shell poured $7 billion into exploring the region, but came up empty and abandoned the project last year. According to the Washington Post, the new restrictions do not affect current leases held by oil and gas companies in the area. In March, the Obama administration reversed course on its plan to allow offshore drilling in the Atlantic from Virginia to Georgia. Critics note that had this administration been engaged six years ago, actual legislation might have been passed in lieu of a last breath executive order that has a good chance of being overturned in court, or removed by another presidential order.