Obama and Trudeau put majority of US and Canadian Arctic water off-limits to offshore oil and gas leasing
US President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau jointly announced sweeping restrictions to offshore oil and gas leasing in the US and Canadian Arctic waters. Obama designated the vast majority of US waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas as indefinitely off limits to offshore oil and gas leasing. Canada will designate all Arctic Canadian waters as indefinitely off limits to future offshore Arctic oil and gas licensing, to be reviewed every five years through a climate and marine science-based life-cycle assessment.
Obama acted under his authority designated by Section 12a of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. This move “permanently” protects 115 million acres of the Arctic Ocean, excluding only 2.9 million acres which have previously been leased near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. In the Atlantic Ocean, Obama also protected 3.8 million acres, stretching from Massachusetts to Maryland. The ability of future administrations to rescind “permanent” protection has yet to be determined in court. The New York Times quoted Patrick Parenteau, a professor of environmental law at the University of Vermont as saying “There is no case law on this. It’s uncharted waters.”
In addition, the two launched other actions targeting a sustainable Arctic economy and ecosystem, with low-impact shipping and science-based management of marine resources.
Supporting strong Arctic communities: Canada is committing to co-develop a new Arctic Policy Framework, with Northerners, Territorial and Provincial governments, and First Nations, Inuit, and Métis People that will replace Canada’s Northern Strategy. The Framework will include priority areas identified by the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs’ Special Representative, such as education, infrastructure, and economic development. The Framework will include an Inuit-specific component, created in partnership with Inuit, as Inuit Nunangat comprises over a third of Canada’s land mass and over half of Canada’s coast line, and as Inuit modern treaties govern this jurisdictional space. In parallel, Canada is reducing the reliance of Northern communities on diesel, by deploying energy efficiency and renewable power. Canada will also, with Indigenous and Northern partners, explore how to support and protect the future of the Arctic Ocean’s “last ice area” where summer ice remains each year.
Low impact shipping corridors: Both countries are launching the first processes to identify sustainable shipping lanes throughout their connected Arctic waters, in collaboration with Northern and Indigenous partners. The US Coast Guard is launching a Port Access Route Study (PARS) in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Results from this analysis may be used to establish vessel routing measures including traffic separation schemes, recommended routes, Areas To Be Avoided, or other instruments such as fairways where no structures may be erected.
The Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada is implementing Northern Marine Transportation Corridors, determining what infrastructure and navigational and emergency response services are needed. Canada is also launching a new program to support training curriculum for Northerners, particularly Indigenous peoples, to join the marine field, as well as programming to support marine infrastructure and safety equipment for communities.
Science-based management of Arctic fisheries: The United States commits to supporting and strengthening existing commercial fishing closures in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, and to conducting scientific research to improve our understanding of the Arctic. Canada commits to working with Northern and Indigenous communities to build world-leading and abundant Arctic fisheries that firstly benefit Northern communities.