In bad news for the Alaskan economy but good news for polar bears, the US government blocked new offshore drilling in Alaska's Arctic Ocean and refused to extend two existing leases for Arctic drilling on Friday, the New York Times reports. The Interior Department cancelled auctions for drilling rights in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas while declining to extend the Arctic leases of Shell (expires in 2017) and Statoil (expires in 2020), according to NPR. "In light of Shell's announcement, the amount of acreage already under lease, and current market conditions, it does not make sense to prepare for lease sales in the Arctic in the next year and a half," Interior secretary Sally Jewell says in a statement.
The Shell announcement Jewell is talking about is the oil giant's decision last month to halt its Arctic drilling after accidents, delays, and $7 billion with nothing to show for it, the Times reports. The moves by the Obama administration Friday basically block drilling in the Alaskan Arctic for two years. It's a decision one Alaskan senator calls "stunning," "destructive," and "shortsighted." But Miyoko Sakashita of the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity tells the BBC it's great news for the Arctic and its wildlife. "We need to keep all the Arctic oil in the ground," she says. The US Geological Survey believes the Arctic holds about 13% of the world's undiscovered oil, but the Times reports offshore Arctic drilling is declining—due to concerns over safety, cost, and the environment—in the US, Canada, and Greenland.