Report: Obama to attempt to permanently block some offshore drilling before leaving office

Oh my. It’s beginning to seem as if someone could start an entire blog dedicated to nothing but the back alley maneuvers that the outgoing President is attempting in order to “cement his legacy” going forward. A better translation of that would be to say that he’s trying to plant as many landmines as possible to make any reforms intended by Donald Trump more difficult, if not impossible. Now Bloomberg is reporting that there’s a big one coming, though it hasn’t been announced by White House yet. Using a loosely worded provision from a law passed more than half a century ago, Obama is reportedly going to try to permanently ban offshore drilling and oil exploration in regions of the Arctic and off the Atlantic coast.

President Barack Obama is preparing to block the sale of new offshore drilling rights in much of the U.S. Arctic and parts of the Atlantic, a move that could indefinitely restrict oil production there, according to two people familiar with the decision.

Obama will invoke a provision in a 1953 law that gives him wide latitude to withdraw U.S. waters from future oil and gas leasing, said the people who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been announced. Until now the law has been used sparingly to preserve coral reefs, walrus feeding grounds and marine sanctuaries.

Coming in the waning days of his administration, Obama’s move — which could come as soon as Tuesday — responds to a clamor from environmental activists who have looked for a way to lock in protections before President-elect Donald Trump takes office. Related actions by Canada may be announced at the same time, the people said.

The plan is one that was hatched by drilling protesters earlier this year but didn’t gain any traction at the time. Some of their attorneys were combing through dusty old records and discovered a vague provision in the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. It deals with the procedures approved by Congress wherein the President could arrange for leases of offshore lands for energy exploration and how they would be awarded. Buried in that mountain of legalese is section 12(a) which reads as follows:

Withdrawal of unleased lands by President: The President of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.

What does that mean, exactly? The lawyers who have looked at aren’t entirely sure because none of this has apparently ever been challenged in court. Up until now, the provision was only invoked to set aside small sections of the shelf for the protection of certain aquatic creatures and undersea habitats, but no president thus far has attempted to use it to shut down entire sections of the shelf from drilling.

If Barack Obama does this, couldn’t Donald Trump simply undo it with the stroke of a pen? Again.. nobody is exactly sure. But if that’s how it plays out, environmental activists could immediately challenge Trump in court, possibly gain an injunction and tie the entire thing up in knots for years. It certainly sounds like dirty pool which thwarts the will of the voters who selected a new president, but I’ve seen stranger things happen. Supposedly this could be happening as soon as today, so we should know soon enough.

Shell Polar Pioneer Arctic Drilling Rig