President Obama Bans New Offshore Drilling in Federal Waters of Arctic and Atlantic


Contact: Haley McKey, 202-772-0247 (work), 571-480-2113 (cell),


WASHINGTON (December 20, 2016) – Today President Obama permanently banned new offshore drilling in parts of federal waters off the Atlantic Coast and in the Arctic Ocean. This will reduce the threats posed by offshore oil and gas development to imperiled and endangered species in these two regions, including North Atlantic right whales and humpback whales, sea turtles, belugas, polar bears and walruses.

The following is a statement from CEO and President of Defenders of Wildlife, Jamie Rappaport Clark (Twitter: @JClarkprez):

“This is a visionary act by President Obama. Withdrawing these waters from oil drilling  will make our oceans healthier and safer for marine and coastal wildlife and will help protect local communities and ocean-dependent industries from the harmful effects of oil and gas extraction.  And it marks the important recognition that we cannot achieve the nation’s climate change goals if we continue to expand oil and gas development into new, pristine environments like the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans.

“Oil spills are catastrophes for our oceans and coasts, devastating fragile ecosystems and wreaking havoc on commercial and recreational fisheries and tourism-dependent coastal economies. But offshore oil and gas development also causes very real day-to-day harm to wildlife and habitat. The seismic testing required for new fossil fuel exploration is extremely harmful to marine mammals and other ocean life and poses a serious risk to critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Even without a catastrophic spill, offshore oil and gas development routinely results in significant air and water pollution. Increased vessel traffic around wells and drilling rigs heightens the risk of ship strikes for whales, Pacific walrus and ice-dependent seals, especially as climate-changed induced sea ice loss has opened up Arctic waters to ever higher ship traffic.

“And there is no reason to expose the sensitive wildlife and marine ecosystems of the Arctic and Atlantic to these risks.  There is no future in which America can possibly make use of the oil and gas beneath these oceans and still achieve its commitment to the world to limit carbon emissions to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.  We should be transitioning away from fossil fuels, not opening new, pristine ocean environments to damaging drilling.

President Obama’s decision finally acts on the bitter lessons we learned from the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon disasters. This farsighted decision preserves the beauty, bounty and biodiversity of our nation’s federal waters for future generations.”


The decision:

  • President Obama’s action on this issue was made possible by a provision in federal legislation from 1953 that gives the president wide latitude to withdraw federal waters from future oil and gas leasing.


  • While such bans are often limited in their length and scope, the provision allows for a permanent ban and may be difficult to repeal.

Oil spill effects on wildlife:

  • Past oil spills have had devastating effects on wildlife in the United States. The Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast unleashed over 200 million gallons of has had serious consequences for fish reproduction, as research has shown that larval fish exposed to crude oil fail to develop properly. It damaged thousands of miles of coastline that hundreds of bird species depend on for nesting and migratory stopover habitat, and a study has shown that oil-exposed dolphins are more susceptible to infections.


  • The Exxon Valdez oil spill dumped 11 million gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound and killed between 1,000 and 2,800 sea otters, at least 300 harbor seals, 22 orca whales and as many as a quarter of a million sea birds. Thousands of gallons of oil from the disaster remain just below the surface of Prince William Sound’s beaches.

Shell’s botched drilling attempt in the Arctic Ocean:

  • In late 2012, the Kulluk, Shell Oil’s conical Arctic drilling ship on its way to Seattle for repairs, broke away from its towing vessel and was set adrift. All of the crew members had to be evacuated . Attempts at recapturing the ship failed, and it eventually ran aground on a small island off the coast of Kodiak on New Year’s Eve. The event demonstrated that even the most state-of-the-art technology was no match for the winter waters of the Arctic Ocean.


  • The conditions of the Arctic Ocean make fighting an oil spill like the BP disaster all but impossible. From sea ice, 60-mile-per-hour winds and forty-foot ocean swells to the severe lack of oil spill response infrastructure in the region, the risk to people, wildlife and the environment is incredibly high. Despite this and Shell’s drilling fiasco, oil companies have continued to push for leases in these dangerous waters.


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.

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