A federal district court judge in Alaska last Friday ruled an executive order (EO) issued by President Trump in 2017 opening areas of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans to oil and gas leasing was "unlawful and invalid," and ordered the areas closed to leasing.

Judge Sharon Gleason of the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska said Trump exceeded his authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) when he issued the EO in April 2017 as part of his "energy dominance" agenda in League of Conservation Voters et al v. Trump et al, No. 3:17-cv-101.

In issuing the EO, Trump reversed a November 2016 decision by President Obama to remove the Arctic's Beaufort and Chukchi seas from a five-year leasing program for 2017-2022, which is managed by the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The EO also called for annual lease sales in the Western Gulf Of Mexico (GOM), Central GOM, Cook Inlet, Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic planning areas.

Gleason said Section 12(a) of the OCSLA "refers only to the withdrawal of lands; it does not expressly authorize the president to revoke a prior withdrawal." Additional language in the statute "appears to clarify the president's withdrawal authority by giving him the discretion to withdraw lands at any time and for discrete periods; the phrase does not specifically give the president the authority to revoke a prior withdrawal...

"The wording of President Obama's 2015 and 2016 withdrawals indicates that he intended them to extend indefinitely, and therefore be revocable only by an act of Congress."

Obama issued a memorandum designating 9.8 million acres of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off limits to oil and gas leasing in January 2015. Two more memoranda, issued in December 2016, took an additional 3.8 million acres in the north and mid-Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast and 115 million acres in the Arctic Ocean off the table from leasing consideration.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she disagreed with Gleason's ruling and predicted it would be overturned.

"That is not the correct interpretation of the OCSLA and could have catastrophic impacts for offshore development, which creates jobs, generates revenues, and strengthens our national security," Murkowski said. "I expect this decision to be appealed and ultimately overturned -- if not by the Ninth Circuit, then by the Supreme Court."