Yesterday, President Obama designated the waters of Bristol Bay as off limits to consideration for oil and gas leasing.
The decision to withdraw the area from all future oil and gas leasing extends indefinitely a temporary withdrawal that President Obama issued in 2010 and was set to expire in 2017. This action builds on decades of local efforts to protect Bristol Bay from oil and gas development by Alaska Native tribes and organizations, as well as local seafood and tourism businesses.
The North Aleutian Basin Planning Area that includes Bristol Bay consists of approximately 32.5 million acres, a portion of which was leased in the mid-1980s but never developed due to litigation. The previous administration set in motion a new lease sale for 2011 that would have opened approximately 5.6 million acres — about one-fifth of the planning area — for drilling.
In 2010, President Obama temporarily withdrew the Bristol Bay area from oil and gas development, exercising his authority under section 12 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which gives the President authority to withdraw offshore areas from potential oil and gas leasing. President Eisenhower was the first to exercise the authority in 1960, withdrawing an area now included in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Since then, presidents on both sides of the aisle have acted to withdraw areas of the Outer Continental Shelf from oil and gas leasing.
Under the Outer Continental Shelf Land Act of 1953, the Department of the Interior develops a new leasing program every five years for energy development in federal offshore waters.
National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi issued the following statement regarding President Obama’s action on Bristol Bay:
“It is hard to understand President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, when more offshore areas have been closed to oil and gas leasing under this administration than have been opened up. ZERO truly new acres of federal offshore areas have been opened up for oil and gas leasing over the past six years. In fact, more than 85 percent of the outer continental shelf remains off the table to oil and gas leasing. It is disappointing to witness this continued pattern of unilaterally removing areas from consideration before fully understanding the amount and potential of energy resources they hold. The National Ocean Industries Association represents the entire offshore energy industry, including renewable energy producers, and we support an all-of-the-above energy strategy that includes opportunities to explore truly NEW offshore areas for both renewable energy opportunities AND oil and gas. Where is the balance? It is the President’s prerogative to create new closures, but he also has the ability to open up new areas, and we certainly encourage him to do so in the upcoming five year offshore oil and gas leasing program.”