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Obama Moves to Block Drilling in Alaska
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The president hopes to prevent drilling in a large region in Alaska.

Summary: The Obama administration has announced a plan to protect millions of acres of land in Alaska from drilling.

This week, the Obama administration is attempting to mark certain areas of Alaska as off limits to oil and natural gas drilling. The move is the latest in a series of attempts to improve the administration’s environmental efforts.


According to the Wall Street Journal, the Interior Department issued a statement on Sunday that it would propose the preservation of an area of roughly 13 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge is about 19.8 million acres in size. The protected area would include 1.5 million acres of coastal plains that many believe contains rich natural gas and oil resources.

By the end of the week, the department is also scheduled to propose an offshore leasing plan that will likely include additional restrictions on gas and oil production in Alaska.

BP was ordered to pay $25 million in 2011 for the 2006 oil pipeline spill in Alaska.

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As expected, Republicans are fighting the president’s proposal. According to USA Today, many Republicans feel that the move will damage Alaska’s economy.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has promised to fight against Obama’s plan. Murkowski leads the appropriations subcommittee that funds the Interior Department, as well as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Murkowski said, “It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory. But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal.”

An Interior Department spokeswoman explained that setting aside the land will informally label it as wilderness, which prevents drilling. Designating such an area will require congressional approval, which is unlikely since both chambers are currently Republican-controlled.

Alaskan citizens voted in favor of legalizing marijuana.

Oil and gas production in Alaska peaked in the 1980s, but it has declined close to 75% since that point. Two years ago, North Dakota bumped Alaska from the number two spot in oil production in the United States, surpassed only by Texas.

The Interior Department will likely block areas of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off Alaska’s coast for oil and gas development as part of its offshore leasing plan. A drilling plan is released every five years, Robert Dillon, a spokeman for Murkowski, said.

Dillon commented that the new proposal is not anticipated to affect drilling plans by Shell Oil Co., ConocoPhillips, and Statoil. However, long term effects are unclear at this time.

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The Interior Department states that over seven million acres of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are designated as wilderness. This designation is the highest level of protection the federal government can offer. Drilling for oil and gas is prohibited in this area due to a law passed in the 1980s. The proposal would increase protection in the area.

President Barack Obama said, “Pristine, undisturbed, it supports caribou and polar bears, all matters of marine life, countless species of birds and fish. And for centuries it’s supported many Alaskan native communities, but it’s very fragile.” The New York Times adds that environmentalists are thrilled with the announcement.

During the last couple of months, the Obama administration has taken additional measures to protect the environment and discuss climate change.

The first in-state law school has been proposed in Alaska, but is having trouble being approved.

In December, the president said that he would permanently block oil and gas drilling in Bristol Bay, located in southwestern Alaska. That announcement did not cause the commotion that this week’s announcement did, since there is no drilling in the Bristol Bay area and companies have expressed little interest in the region.

In addition, the Interior Department will likely propose new regulations on drilling that will be specific to the harsh conditions in the Arctic.

The Interior Department’s five-year plan is predicted to reveal how supportive the president and his administration are of new offshore drilling. The last time such a plan was released, the onshore expansion of  natural gas and shale oil was not fully developed. Many experts and lobbyist say that areas along the East Coast could be opened up since policymakers in that area support the idea.

In addition, earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas industries for the first time.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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