WSJ: Obama’s ‘Permanent’ Drilling Freeze Won’t Be Permanent

  • Date: 22/12/16
  • The Wall Street Journal

The environmental lobby has moved on from reducing carbon demand—via subsidies for electric cars and solar panels—to opposing any carbon energy, and this is the opposition Mr. Trump will confront.

The White House is attempting to overload the bandwidth of its successor with a surge of new regulation, and the latest is a ban on oil drilling in much of the Arctic and Atlantic. This rule even purports to be “permanent,” unchangeable by any future President for all time. We’ll see about that, but in the meantime spare us the liberal panic about Donald Trump’s supposed authoritarianism.

The last-gasp executive action prohibits federal offshore drilling and mineral leases on some 3.8 million acres from Virginia to Maine and 115 million acres off the coast of Alaska, including some of the world’s great untapped repositories of hydrocarbons. President Obama rolled out the rule in concert with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the greens are cheering that still more fossil-fuel regions will be walled off from exploration.

For years federal regulators have obstructed oil production on already leased lands. Royal Dutch Shell holds the sole drilling permit in Alaska and in 2015 suspended operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas despite $7 billion of sunk investment. So in a sense the new rule is merely truth in advertising.

But the press corps is rushing to euphemize Mr. Obama’s “creative” interpretation of a “rarely used” provision of the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Ocsla allows that the President “may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the Outer Continental Shelf.” Because the law does not explicitly give the President the power to un-withdraw lands, the White House touts the rule as a forever condition. In other words, this is Mr. Obama’s typically illegal M.O.

Congress passed Ocsla, as the law’s preamble states, in order to make the “vital national resource reserve” that is the continental shelf “available for expeditious and orderly development.” The power to lock is also the power to unlock. Bill Clinton used Ocsla to withdraw 300 million offshore acres from an area that was already a designated marine sanctuary, but George W. Bush reinstated about 50 million.

So ponder the spectacle of a President claiming his writ will last “indefinitely,” as Mr. Obama’s executive order puts it. No policy decisions are engraved in stone as if through holy stenography, and they’re definitely not beyond democratic consent on the basis of a 63-year-old law. In a statement, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley applauded Mr. Obama for “implementing” sections of the Democrat’s “Keep It In the Ground Act.” Why even have a Congress?

The environmental lobby has moved on from reducing carbon demand—via subsidies for electric cars and solar panels—to opposing any carbon energy, and this is the opposition Mr. Trump will confront. Restarting drilling would be a productive start for U.S. energy security and competitiveness.

In the Arctic in particular, oil-and-gas reserves are beneath relatively shallow waters and obtainable with technology proven safe in the field. Developing these resources could offset the expected long-term decline of energy production in the lower 48 in the 2030s and 2040s, and realistically the process needs to start now. Russia is also aggressively expanding exploration wells in the Arctic’s Kara and Pechora seas and adding to its polar navy.

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