WASHINGTON – The Obama administration acted Tuesday to permanently protect areas of the Atlantic Ocean from offshore drilling.
Using his authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, President Obama is withdrawing 3.8 million acres in the north and mid-Atlantic Ocean from future mineral extraction, protecting 31 canyons that extend from Heezen Canyon off New England to Norfolk Canyon, off the coast of Virginia. The 1953 act first used by Dwight Eisenhower does not include a provision for a future president to undo the withdrawal, but it’s unclear whether Congress can or will reverse the decision.
The announcement follows several recent moves by the Obama administration to leave an environmental legacy, including the removal of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans from the five-year program, from 2017-22, for oil and gas development.
Dustin Cranor, communications director with the conservation group Oceana, said that for North Carolina’s coast, Obama “made his decision clear” when he removed the Atlantic Ocean from the five-year drilling program earlier this year.
“Coastal opposition remains committed to ensuring that offshore drilling activities never take place in the Atlantic Ocean, including off North Carolina’s coast,” Cranor said.
Coastal tourism interests, beach towns and counties and military officials have objected to plans for Atlantic offshore drilling. The Navy has said it would interfere with training exercises off the coast.
Oceana noted that a vast stretch of water from Delaware to Florida is still at risk from seismic airgun blasting to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean’s surface. Opponents say seismic surveying threatens marine mammals.