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Barack Obama has permanently banned offshore oil and gas drilling in the “vast majority” of US-owned northern waters.

The outgoing president designated areas in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans as “indefinitely off limits” to future leasing.

The move is widely seen as an attempt to protect the region before Barack Obama leaves office in January.

Donald Trump’s supporters could find it difficult to reverse the decision.

In a joint announcement with Washington, Canada also committed to a similar measure in its own Arctic waters.

Photo Flickr

According to the White House, the decision was for “a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem”.

It cited native cultural needs, wildlife concerns, and the “vulnerability” of the region to oil spills as some of the reasons for the ban.

However, while Canada will review the move every five years, the White House insists President Obama’s declaration is permanent.

The decision relies on a 1953 law which allows the president to ban leasing of offshore resources indefinitely.

During the election campaign, Donald Trump said he would take advantage of existing US oil reserves, prompting concern from environmental groups.

Supporters have already suggested that any attempt to reverse the “permanent” decision outlined by the law would be open to a legal challenge.

Reacting to the Arctic declaration, Friends of the Earth said: “No president has ever rescinded a previous president’s permanent withdrawal of offshore areas from oil and gas development.

“If Donald Trump tries to reverse President Obama’s withdrawals, he will find himself in court.”

However, the American Petroleum Institute said “there is no such thing as a permanent ban,” and that it hoped Donald Trump’s administration would simply reverse the decision.

The president-elct has also raised fears among some environmental campaigners through his choices for senior White House roles.

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson has been named his secretary of state. His energy secretary, Rick Perry, has previously called for less regulation of the oil industry in his role as governor of Texas.

Environmental groups strongly criticized both appointments.

Very little oil drilling currently takes place in the Arctic region, as it is more expensive and difficult than other available options.