It was a fitting end to eight years of an administration dedicated to frustrating the development of domestic energy resources at every turn. Fortunately, indications are that President Donald Trump will take a more welcoming view of U.S. oil and gas production.
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) handed down the ban in response to six applications to conduct seismic surveys in the Atlantic. These surveys locate and create images of rock formations, a key step in the search for oil and gas reserves below the ocean floor.
BOEM claimed that the surveys would be disruptive and could harm marine life. This is part of a pattern of flimsy excuse-making for decisions that are really all about politics.
Last year, after the federal government spent months contemplating opening up areas of the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas leasing, the Obama administration decided to block all exploration in these areas for five years.
In December, President Obama announced a permanent ban on offshore drilling in federal waters along the Atlantic Coast and in the ArcticThis was done, characteristically, by executive order, itself justified by the dubious application of a dated law.
Obama hoped for a successor who agrees with his anti-energy policies. When he didn't get one, he moved to lock his preferences in past the expiration of his term.
His executive orders and rules banning drilling and surveying will require a pronounced effort to overturn. The outgoing administration even boasted about how difficult, if not impossible, its anti-energy policies would be to undo.
But President Trump has repeatedly expressed his intention to rev up American energy production. The new president will have the facts on his side.
First, the flimsy excuses: seismic surveys are not harmful to marine life. They have been safely conducted along the U.S. coast for years. That's because such surveys proceed only after extensive studies to determine what impact they will have.
As an additional safeguard, survey sound levels increase gradually, allowing marine life to get clear of the area.
The BOEM itself has admitted "there has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from seismic activities adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities."
So, offshore development would do nothing to harm marine life. But it would unleash a wave of economic benefits. Currently, nearly 90 billion barrels of oil and 405 trillion cubic feet of gas are untapped.
Leasing these areas for development would create 840,000 jobs, put $200 billion into the federal treasury, and ramp up domestic energy production by 3.5 billion barrels of oil a day.
What's more, the need for new surveys is now acute. The last seismic survey conducted in the Atlantic Outer Continental shelf was three decades ago. New surveys using advanced technology will likely reveal large additional reserves of oil.
Shortly after taking office, the Trump administration declared itself "committed to energy policies that lower costs for hardworking Americans and maximize the use of American resources, freeing us from dependence on foreign oil."
To make good on its commitment, President Trump will have to end his predecessor's war against American energy production. A good place to start is to allow seismic surveys in potentially rich oil and gas areas off America's coast.
Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty.