U.S. Appeals Court Affirms Atlantic, Arctic Offshore Leasing Bans

April 14, 2021
Sea Ice in the Chukchi Sea - Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Under CC BY 2.0 License

Sea Ice in the Chukchi Sea - Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Under CC BY 2.0 License

A federal appeals court on Tuesday confirmed bans on offshore oil leasing in most federal Arctic waters and in the Atlantic after the Trump Administration tried to open them up to development.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said President Joe Biden's reinstatement of Obama-era protections makes moot the previous administration's attempts to allow oil development there.

The Trump administration pressed for oil-and-gas development throughout the United States as the nation's crude production surged to a record 13 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2019. The court ruling ends a legal effort to resurrect a plan from early in Trump's administration for certain offshore areas that had been protected.

A federal judge in Alaska in 2019 struck down the 2017 Trump executive order that set to sell oil leases in the Chukchi Sea off northwestern Alaska, in protected areas of the Beaufort Sea off northern Alaska and in protected areas of the Atlantic.

The Trump administration, backed by the state of Alaska and oil industry groups, appealed. But the Biden administration's restoring no-lease protections removes the grounds for the appeal, the appeals court judges said in their decision.

With the executive order no longer in effect, the areas that had been subject to possible development "will be withdrawn from exploration and development activities regardless of the outcome of these appeals,” the court said.

Biden resurrected the Obama withdrawals in an Inauguration Day executive order.

Oil development in federal Arctic waters has been limited by high costs, environmental and regulatory complications and forbidding conditions.

The last Arctic offshore lease sale held by the federal government occurred in 2008, and Royal Dutch Shell, which spent $2.1 billion to acquire leases, ended up abandoning its Arctic exploration program in 2015.

(Reporting By Yereth Rosen in Anchorage. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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