US judge reverses Trump’s order, reinstating Obama’s ban on Arctic drilling

The United States will have to obey restrictions and won’t be able to expand oil exploration in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, against President Trump’s will.

The Arctic region is extremely sought after by oil companies, in fact it’s estimated that at least 13 per cent of unexplored crude reserves are found here. The extraction of hydrocarbons in such a delicate ecosystem, dramatically imperilled by climate change, would have a devastating impact. Extraction activities would increase greenhouse gas emissions and threaten endangered species such as the polar bear (Ursus maritimus), narwhal (Monodon monoceros) and walrus (Odobenus rosmarus).

Potential oil spills would contaminate its waters, damaging local populations that rely on them as well as wildlife. In order to preserve the fragile Arctic ecosystem, former US president Barack Obama halted drilling activities in 2015, but in 2017 current president Donald Trump restored oil explorations in Alaska, contradicting the decision taken by his predecessor. Nevertheless, on the 31st of March this year, Sharon Gleason, United States Judge for the District of Alaska, overturned the decision once more, repealing Trump’s executive order by reintroducing the restrictions put in place by Obama.

Greenpeace activist in Seattle bay during protests against Arctic drilling in 2015
Greenpeace activists in Seattle’s bay during protests against Arctic drilling in 2015 © David Ryder/Getty Images

A ruling in favour of the Arctic

The judge halted the plan to expand offshore drilling and reinstated the ban in vast areas of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, stating that the current president had overstepped his authority when he cancelled the restrictions of perforation. Judge Gleason explained that federal law doesn’t allow presidents to remove a previously instated ban, only Congress has the power to do so.

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Oil companies protest

A note published by the American Petroleum Institute voicing its opposition to the ruling reads: “In addition to bringing supplies of affordable energy to consumers for decades to come, developing our abundant offshore resources can provide billions in government revenue, create thousands of jobs and will also strengthen our national security”. The government, on its part, hasn’t commented on the decision yet.

Protest against oil explorations in Alaska
Protests against oil explorations in Alaska © Win McNamee/Getty Images

Environmentalists celebrate

The sentiment of the environmental groups who had filed suit against the Trump administration in relation to Artic drilling is obviously quite different. “The judge’s ruling today shows that the president can’t just trample on the Constitution to do the bidding of his cronies in the fossil fuel industry at the expense of our oceans, wildlife, and climate”, said Erik Grafe, lawyer working with the NGO Earthjustice who represented the activist groups during the legal battle.

OIl explorations in the Arctic could forever compromise a unique and scarcely anthropised ecosystem, filled with endangered creatures and different habitats
Oil exploration in the Arctic could forever compromise a unique ecosystem, relatively untouched by human impact, that is home to many endangered creatures and different habitats © US Fish and Wildlife Service/Getty Images

A paradise that must be protected

After instituting safeguards for Arctic fauna and its inhabitants in 2015, the following year Obama banned oil exploration in an area of 15,377 square kilometres situated in the south-eastern coast of the Atlantic Ocean, to preserve habitats full of life, and protect beaches and coastal economies.

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