Is it January 20th yet?

Barack Obama is clearly leaving no stone unturned in his efforts to shut down domestic oil production before leaving office. While his previous raft of midnight regulatory moves have been well documented, another one popped up this weekend. Just to put a twist on things, this time he’s not denying permits to actually extract oil from coastal sources. He’s not even talking about exploratory wells which are drilled to look for oil. This time he’s cancelling permits to use non-invasive, seismic testing to search for energy deposits, specifically in the Atlantic. (Washington Post)

For the second time in less than a month, the Obama administration on Friday took an action that all but shuts the door on drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, denying six permits to companies seeking to use seismic cannons to search for oil under the ocean floor.

The president’s decision stymies the oil industry’s hopes to drill off the coast between Delaware and Florida. It immediately drew scorn from the industry’s political supporters and lobbyists, though it was applauded by conservationists worried about the permanence of the president’s considerable environmental legacy once Donald Trump takes office…

“In the present circumstances and guided by an abundance of caution, we believe that the value of obtaining the geophysical and geological information from new air-gun seismic surveys in the Atlantic does not outweigh the potential risks of those surveys’ acoustic pulse impacts on marine life,” director Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement. “Since federal waters in the Mid- and South Atlantic have been removed from leasing consideration for the next five years, there is no immediate need for these surveys.”

This move is partly based on the assumption that all of the coastal drilling in question is “off the table” thanks to Obama’s recent bans. This is a dubious proposition at best and we’ll find out more about that once Trump is in office. But in order to bolster the claim even more, the White House is dredging up concerns over the potential dangers posed to marine mammals and other wildlife from acoustic interference. To be clear, this isn’t a made up idea. It’s been known for some time that there are definite indications that sonic blasts have adverse effects on whales, dolphins and other creatures. It’s a subject which deserves more study and if we can mitigate any damage from such processes we absolutely should.

This declaration, however, is simply a fig leaf to cover a political agenda. First of all, if Barack Obama was all that concerned about interference with marine mammals he would be addressing the more serious and much better documented issue of sonar from submarines and ships doing the same sort of harm. But you’ll notice that he’s not grounding the entire fleet or ordering them to stop using sonar. But let’s say that it’s just the air-guns used in these seismic surveys. What about the whales in the Pacific and up in the Arctic? Don’t they count? Why are you only banning it off the Atlantic seaboard? (That sounds suspiciously like racism or coastalism or speciesism or some other -ism if you ask me.)

The reality here is that the White House is simply trying to shut down more energy exploration and complicate matters for Trump for as long as they can. This is small-ball thinking and doesn’t speak well of the President at all. Hopefully Trump will have some people lined up to challenge these midnight rulings as soon as he’s sworn in.

Shell Polar Pioneer Arctic Drilling Rig