US President Barack Obama has used an executive order to ban oil and gas drilling in parts of the Bering Sea.
It takes off the table for leasing two areas – the Norton Basin Planning Area and the St Matthew-Hall Planning Area.
The purpose is to help protect the environment and the sustainability of native Alaskan communities. Representatives of those communities were consulted in formulating the order.
Obama is in the final five weeks of his presidency. His successor, President-elect Donald Trump, is expected to be much friendlier to offshore fossil fuel exploration and may very well overturn the Obama order.
The decision follows November’s announcement by the Department of the Interior to exclude two other areas of the US Arctic – the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, both offshore Alaska – from the 2017-2022 five-year oil and gas lease sale program.
Apart from banning oil and gas leases, the executive order also creates a “Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area” of 112,300 square miles, which could lead to future limits on fishing and shipping there.
It requires that Alaskan natives and coastal communities be consulted before any future decisions – such as about commercial fishing or shipping – that could have an environmental impact.
The three-person (all Republican) Alaskan delegation to the US Congress was strongly critical of the president’s order, calling it secretive, unilateral and likely to hurt the local economy.