President Obama signed a presidential memorandum Tuesday that officially removes Alaska's Bristol Bay from the oil- and natural gas-development auctioning block.
"[Bristol Bay] is a beautiful, natural wonder," Obama said in a video posted on the Alaskan Wilderness League's facebook page. "It's something that is just to precious for us to just be putting out to the highest bidder."
Believed to have subterranean oil reserves valued at nearly $7.7 billion, this region of the Alaskan coast is of huge economic interest to mining companies. However, in addition to to the area's stunning scenery, Bristol Bay is already a thriving economic engine which provides the U.S. with nearly 40 percent of its wild-caught seafood.
According to the L.A. Times, outgoing Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said the fishery is worth $2 billion annually, or $80 billion over the life span of the fossil fuel deposit.
“Much of Alaska's coastal waters, especially in the promising Arctic, are open for oil and gas exploration and development,” Begich said. “I stand with the majority of Alaskans who agree that protecting Bristol Bay's salmon fishery is a top priority.”
The decision has not been without opposition and many oil companies have accused the president of hampering the countries economy as a whole.
“Today's actions serve to undermine this nation's ability to achieve an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy that corresponds to our constantly evolving energy needs,” said Kara Moriarty, president of the Alaska Oil and Gas Assn. It “takes Bristol Bay off the table for consideration for generations.”
Regardless, Tuesday's action only provides partial protection to the region as officials are expected to decide whether to allow the largest open-pit mine in North America to be dug in the Bristol Bay watershed, something the EPA says could be devastating to the area's Salmon population.
"We're very appreciative of President Obama for recognizing that those waters are more important as habitat for salmon, crab, halibut," said Robin Samuelson, chairman of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. "There are places to drill for oil and places not to drill for oil."