Obama administration speeds up ban on Arctic offshore drilling

The Obama administration yesterday banned offshore drilling in the Arctic, a move likely to block president elect Donald Trump's energy plans. Trump had vowed to ''unleash'' new energy production in the US by removing restrictions on oil and gas companies.

The move by the interior department, part of a new five-year plan for energy development in federal waters, would for a some period of time put exploration in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off the Alaskan coast on hold. The department also shot down companies' plans for drilling for oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean off of four southeastern states, including Virginia.

''The plan focuses on lease sales in the best places - those with highest resource potential, lowest conflict, and established infrastructure - and removes regions that are simply not right to lease,'' interior secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement yesterday. ''Given the unique and challenging Arctic environment and industry's declining interest in the area, forgoing lease sales in the Arctic is the right path forward.''

The region in Alaska currently considered by big oil companies has proved to be much too expensive to explore in the backdrop of low crude prices, the massively expensive drilling in icy waters and the costly failure by Royal Dutch Shell to discover oil in 2015 after years of preparation. The exercise cost the company $7 billion.

Meanwhile, Jewell said the move, struck the right balance, by sustaining oil and gas development in the Gulf, while blocking new activity in remote and fragile Arctic waters that could be devastated by an oil spill. 

"The plan focuses lease sales in the best places -- those with the highest resource potential, lowest conflict and established infrastructure -- and removes regions that are simply not right to lease," Jewell said in a statement.