• President Obama stops future offshore oil drilling in Arctic

    By: Graham Johnson

    Updated:

    SEATTLE - In May 2015, the arrival of the Polar Pioneer drill rig in Seattle's Elliott Bay triggered protests by activists in kayaks concerned about oil spills in the Arctic and making climate change worse.

    That summer off Alaska, Shell spent $7 billion on exploration and didn't find enough oil to continue.

    An action taken by President Obama on Tuesday puts the entire Chuckchi Sea and most of the Beaufort Sea permanently off-limits for future drilling, as well as some areas of the Atlantic Ocean.

    A month before leaving office, Obama used a 1953 law with no provision for future presidents to undo permanent protections.

    "It's a great victory for those regions and for the planet as a whole," said Anchorage-based Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe, who said the Seattle protests made a difference.

    "I think that absolutely changed the dialogue and had an influence," Grafe said.

    Lucas Frances of the industry-funded Arctic Energy Center said he thinks President-elect Donald Trump can somehow reverse the decision, which he calls "shocking" for Alaskans who depend on the oil business.

    "It certainly is a slap in the face for communities across Alaska," Frances said.

    The decision could also hurt Puget Sound maritime businesses that might have serviced an Arctic fleet.

    In 2015, the Port of Seattle estimated having the Polar Pioneer here for a month generated temporary work for 500 people.

    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced a freeze on new offshore drilling leases in the Canadian Arctic, a decision that will be up for review every five years.

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