Offshore Drilling: Not in Alaska

By Libby Casey

The Obama Administration has announced that deepwater offshore drilling can resume in the Gulf of Mexico – but the decision doesn’t affect Alaska, where shallow water drilling is on hold.

Reaction to the news that the White House is lifting the deepwater moratorium was mixed, with environmentalists calling the move premature in the wake of this year’s Gulf of Mexico B-P blowout, which was the largest oil spill in U-S history.  On the other side drilling advocates say the decision lacks teeth, because of uncertainty in how soon production can go forward.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says companies complying with all rules – including new ones set into place after the B-P blowout – can get back to work.  But first the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (B-O-E-M) must inspect all deepwater drilling operations.

Alaska’s two Senators both say they want to see Arctic Ocean projects advance.  They were temporarily delayed in the wake of the Gulf spill.

Democratic Senator Mark Begich called Salazar’s announcement “positive” for the oil and gas industry, but said he’s “frustrated” that Alaska was left out of the decision.  Senator Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Energy Committee, said the equivalent of a ‘de-facto moratorium’ still exists in Alaska.  Her spokesman Robert Dillon says they believe the shallow type of drilling sought in Alaska should not be on hold.

It doesn’t do anything to further Alaska’s goal of developing its offshore resources.  Alaska is technically not under any moratorium, but Secretary Salazar has made it clear in statements, that he intends to halt production in Alaska, and we continue to work and push back against that.

Secretary Salazar said that the Interior Department must be aggressive in raising the bar for the oil and gas industry’s safety and environmental practices.  His press secretary Kendra Barkoff:

Secretary Salazar believes we need to continue to take a cautious approach in the Arctic that is guided by science and the voices of North Slope communities.

Salazar visited Alaska last month to for a town-hall meeting in Barrow and to tour the North Slope oil fields.  He has said he would have to let Shell Oil Company, which wants to drill in the Beaufort Sea, know by early next year if it can move forward, because the company would need to get ready for the summer season.

Last week Shell announced it’s scaling back its drilling plans in the Arctic:  it isn’t seeking federal permits to drill in the Chukchi Sea, where it had planned a trio of wells.  It does however still want to move forward on a well in the Beaufort Sea.

Critics of drilling in the Arctic say not enough research exists about cleaning up oil in icy waters, and fear harming Alaska Native communities’ subsistence harvests like whales.  Proponents say it could bring in money, and oil and gas that could help America be less dependent on foreign oil.



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