Obama proposal would open Arctic and Gulf of Mexico to oil drilling


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Arctic waters would be open to new oil and gas development under an Obama administration proposal that keeps the Pacific and Atlantic coasts off limits to new drilling.

The Interior Department’s plan steers a middle course, going too far in the view of environmental groups and not far enough in the eyes of House Republicans.


The proposal, which outlines offshore oil and gas leasing from 2012 to 2017, omits areas on the West and East coasts that the Bush administration planned to open to drilling. But it also calls for three lease sales off the coast of Alaska in environmentally fragile areas that have become a much contested frontier of energy production.

“This five-year program will make available for development more than three-quarters of undiscovered oil and gas resources estimated on the [Outer Continental Shelf], including frontier areas such as the Arctic, where we must proceed cautiously, safely and based on the best science available,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

Environmentalists condemned the Arctic leasing, warning there is no proven way to clean up oil spills in the remote far north, a place of ice floes, towering waves and winter darkness. “The risk to the fragile Arctic area and Alaska communities is clear,” said Athan Manuel of the Sierra Club. “Spill prevention, containment and response systems are not equipped to work in challenging Arctic conditions.”

GOP House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, on the other hand, complained the proposal “places some of the most promising energy resources in the world off-limits.”


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-- Bettina Boxall