Obama Oil Drilling Ban on Thin Ice

President Obama apparently wants his legacy to be one of energy starvation for the United States and dependence on foreign energy from friendly places like Saudi Arabia and Iran. His ban on offshore drilling in federally owned waters off our Atlantic and Arctic coasts makes no sense, either environmentally or economically. As the Washington Times notes, Obama thinks he can get away with it:

Vowing that his successor won’t be able to reverse his actions, President Obama on Tuesday used executive authority to permanently ban new offshore drilling in federally owned waters off the Atlantic coast and in the Arctic Ocean.

Mr. Obama used authority in a section of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, a 1953 law, to ban the drilling. The law includes a provision that allows a president to put certain waters off-limits to oil and gas production.

The presidential authority was used in conjunction with similar actions by Canada, which also moved to prohibit drilling in its own Arctic waters. The U.S. move will ban drilling in the vast majority of American waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, in addition to areas off the Atlantic coast stretching from New England to Virginia.

It is ironic that a president who has used executive orders to get around laws now cites a 63-year-old law to justify an offshore drilling ban. Executive orders can be overturned with another executive order. And a 1953 law written when offshore and deep water drilling technology was in its infancy can be amended or repealed. Technology has advanced a lot since 1953. Hydraulic fracturing or fracking didn’t exist six decades ago. Oil drilling technology is safer, more advanced and requires a smaller footprint.

America needs this offshore energy, unless Obama wants us to be permanent vassals of OPEC. According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska contain an estimated 23.6 billion barrels of oil and 104.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. According to the American Petroleum Institute’s website Energy Tomorrow, offshore drilling could create 840,000 American jobs and generate @200 billion in revenue to the federal government by 2035. As the Daily Caller reports:

Offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean has the potential to produce 1.3 million barrels of oil and natural gas per day while generating nearly 280,000 jobs and contribute up to $23.5 billion per year to the U.S. economy, according to a 2013 study by the American Petroleum Institute.

And what about the environmental impact to these allegedly fragile ecosystems? What about the polar bears and the caribou? We heard this apocalyptic song before, when oil was discovered at Prudhoe Bay and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was built to carry it southward. When oil exploration began in Prudhoe Bay, 60 miles to the west of ANWR, environmentalists claimed it would yield only a "few months' supply" of oil and would wreck the ecosystem. Prudhoe Bay turned out to be the largest deposit of oil ever found in North America.  As Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation writes in the Daily Signal:

Would oil and gas drillers kill off the eagles, caribou, and polar bears, as the White House warns? These were the arguments made more than 40 years ago against building the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System -- which carries oil from Alaska’s North Slope to the port of Valdez for shipment to the lower 48 states. Over the last 35 years it has carried more than 17 billion barrels of oil, a quantity worth nearly $1 trillion in today’s dollars. At the time, the Sierra Club moaned that the pipeline would mean “the wilderness is forever broken,” while the Wilderness Society said the project would lead to “imminent, grave and irreparable damage to the ecology, wilderness values, natural resources, recreational potential, and total environment of Alaska.” No bird or caribou would be safe from the carnage. Sound familiar?

Instead, the impact on Alaska’s wildlife and natural beauty has been almost nonexistent. A study delivered in 2002 to the American Society of Civil Engineers found that “the ecosystems affected by the operation of TAPS and associated activity for almost 25 years are healthy.” Today the size of the caribou herd in Alaska is estimated at about 325,000 -- four times the number before the pipeline was built.

Despite those photos of polar bears clinging in seeming desperation to small pieces of ice, they are in no danger of extinction, whether from oil drilling or from climate change, as reported in the Daily Caller:

“They appear to be as abundant and as productive as ever, in most populations,” Dr. Mitchell Taylor, a polar bear expert with more than 30 years of experience who teaches at Lakehead University in Canada, told the Roy Green Show….

Today, there are significantly more polar bears than there were 40 years ago, despite the animal being listed under the Endangered Species act in 2008 over fears global warming would destroy its Arctic habitat. Official estimates put the total number of bears between 20,000 and 25,000, but this number is really just a “qualified guess” and the actual number is likely higher…

“[T]hey’ve said that polar bears were declining in Western Hudson Bay, subsequent surveys showed they were wrong … said polar bears were declining in Western Hudson Bay and polar bears are not declining there, polar bears are staying about the same,” Taylor said. “They’re -- they’re warning that this will happen, that no-one is seeing it happen yet.”

“And for us, living up in the north, where 365 days a year – you know, climate has been evolving over a number of years, bears have been around for hundreds of thousands of years and they’ve gone through various cycles of climate change,” echoed Gabriel Nirlungayuk, the Deputy Minister of the Environment in Nunavut.

“But in my lifetime, anyhow, we haven’t -- I have yet to see declining of polar bears, of climate change,” Gabriel told the Roy Green Show. “And one is Western Hudson Bay, which was projected to be in decline 20 years ago -- up to now, it should be less than 300 bears but we’re seeing that the numbers have not really changed.”

Obama’s Arctic drilling ban has nothing to do with polar bears, caribou, or fragile ecosystems. They are fine and are not threatened. It has everything to do with ideology and an irrational animus towards fossil fuels. It is about climate change zealots clinging on to their inconvenient falsehoods as desperately as those polar bears were said to be clinging to their ice.  

Daniel John Sobieski is a freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, Human Events, Reason Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications. 

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