On his way out, Obama cedes Arctic energy control to Russia

This isn’t really the same as prying the W’s off the keyboards in the Oval Office, but Barack Obama seems determined to leave some unpleasant going away presents for his successor on the domestic energy front. Before leaving office, the President has modified the agreement for future oil exploration leases to eliminate nearly all Arctic sites. Needless to say, the energy industry isn’t exactly ecstatic over this. (Politico)

President Barack Obama is throwing up roadblocks to Donald Trump’s pledges to expand offshore drilling, with a new plan that will declare parts of the Arctic off-limits.

Obama’s Interior Department on Friday issued its final five-year road map for offshore oil and gas drilling that took two areas in the Arctic out of contention, dealing a win to environmental groups and obstructing a path to new offshore drilling in the area. The plan is vulnerable to being unraveled by Trump, who has pledged to expand oil and gas production, but it would take at least a few years for him to do so.

This move was being discussed more than a week ago but now it seems official. As recently as April the administration was working with energy industry representatives and developing a plan which would have at least included sites in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. (It was a stingy offer even then, but half a loaf is better than none.) This comes on the heels of a decision earlier this year to reverse another set of plans which would have allowed for limited energy exploration in the Atlantic between Georgia and Virginia.

Here’s the thing to keep in mind about that. That stretch of the Arctic Ocean represents our entire share of the undersea oil deposits in that part of the world. The Russians are already competing with us heavily up north. It’s true that some of these areas are turning out to be too poor in resources to make it worth the bother of drilling (Dutch Shell’s Polar Pioneer spent a season there and bailed out without marking a permanent drill site) but there’s plenty more to explore. And as our technology continues to improve, things which are not currently viable may well prove to be not only possible, but economical in the future. Walking away waving the white flag is basically ceding the field to Russia.

What’s not mentioned in any great detail in the current coverage is that it may not take “a few years” to undo these moves at all. These are declarations being made by the executive branch with no input from the legislature. This has been looked into extensively and the next president can generally undo anything crafted solely by the current president without too much trouble. Trump just needs to get the right people on the job of looking into this and a course correction can likely be made.

That would be the prudent move because America is still building on its new role as a global oil and gas industry leader. You may have missed it, but we’re on track to to set a record in shale gas exports this year. And there’s more of that to come. Trump has promised to aggressively pursue domestic energy initiatives and if he’s good to his word we’re going to be breaking more of these records.

Anybody tired of winning yet? I’m not. We’re just getting started.

Shell Polar Pioneer Arctic Drilling Rig

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