President Obama's Ocean Drilling Ban Leaves Out One Crucial Measure

A picture taken on April 7, 2011 shows Russian LUKOIL ice-resistant fixed platform LSP-1, built at the Astrakhansky Korabel shipyard, intended to drill and operate wells and collect and pre-treat reservoir content at Korchagin's oil field in the Russian sector of the Caspian Sea some 180kms outside Astrakhan. The fields productivity of oil and gas condensate will peak at 2.3 million tonnes oil and 1.2 bcm gas per year. AFP PHOTO / MIKHAIL MORDASOV (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL MORDASOV/AFP/Getty Images)
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On Dec. 20, President Barack Obama announced that he would impose a groundbreaking ban on offshore oil drilling in large parts of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, creating a lasting environmental legacy that will survive his nearly-finished presidency. Given the incoming administration's stance on climate change, this move is as prudent as it is historic. However, the ban is bittersweet for those still fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline: President Obama's drilling ban doesn't apply to installing pipelines in rivers or other on-shore bodies of water. And though his ban as it stands is better than no ban at all, the havoc pipelines can wreak on reservoirs and rivers can't afford to go unaddressed —  especially under a Donald Trump administration.

The environmental harm caused by offshore drilling is undeniable — a cursory glance into the long and deadly history of oil spills has begun to inspire the development of alternative forms of energy. Yet the same conclusion has clearly not been drawn regarding the Dakota Access pipeline and the ensuing protests against it at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. 

In fact, the very scenario water protectors are fighting against at Standing Rock happened on Dec. 13, when a pipeline 150 miles from the reservation leaked 176,000 gallons of crude oil. To not include on-shore rivers and reservoirs in this sweeping step towards environmental protection sends incredibly mixed signals to protesters who've been fighting to protect the Standing Rock Sioux water supply for the better part of 2016. 

However, it's important to point out that the law Obama invoked to enact the ban wouldn't have allowed him to protect on-shore waters. Instead, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953 applies only to certain areas of submerged sea-floor in the Atlantic and Arctic Ocean. 

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Despite the praise heaped upon President Obama for temporarily halting the DAPL, the fight to protect the water and land of the Standing Rock Sioux is far from over, especially given the retaliatory responses from Energy Transfer Partners (the company behind the pipeline) and President-elect Trump himself. 

Unfortunately, the president was either unable or unwilling to include environmental protections for one of our country's most historically-disadvantaged groups in this bold act that may come to define the end of his presidency. He will exit the White House with triumphs and failures to spare, but unless he implements a last-minute (and lasting) executive order or other show of his authority in defense of the water protectors, the #NoDAPL movement will pass as another blip in 2016. 

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