An offshore oil drilling rig.

Enlarge / Shell has halted the controversial oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea, citing the marginal discovery of oil was “not enough to continue the search for the foreseeable” future. In a statement on September 28, the company said, “Shell will now cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future.” (credit: Photo by Orjan F. Ellingvag/Corbis via Getty Images)

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal this week, the Department of the Interior’s new secretary, David Bernhardt, said that the Trump administration would indefinitely suspend its plans to expand offshore oil drilling in the Arctic and several areas in the Atlantic ocean. The Secretary did not appear to comment on whether the administration would move forward with offshore drilling in areas outside of those regions.

The decision not to pursue lease sales in the Arctic and some areas of the Atlantic is a significant one for the Interior Department (DOI) and the Trump administration, which promised to roll back drilling moratoriums that the Obama administration had imposed.

The plan to open up Arctic and Atlantic waters to offshore oil drilling hit a snag in late March, when a federal judge in Alaska ruled that the Trump administration could not open up federal waters to oil and gas extraction after the Obama administration closed those waters. The Obama administration relied on a 1953 law called the “Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act” (OCSLA) to close the waters to drilling. That law allows sitting presidents to close waters, but it says nothing about the president’s power to re-open waters. Originally, Congress opened the federal waters in question to lease sales, so the thought is that Congressional approval would be required again to reverse former President Obama’s closures.

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