The Obama administration is preparing to open up more areas in Alaska's Arctic to offshore oil and gas exploration, as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar officially handed his plan off to President Obama and Congress Thursday.
In a Tuesday morning teleconference from Norway, Salazardetailed a proposed five-year offshore lease plan that includes areas in Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
The potential lease sale in the Chukchi would take place in 2016. The lease sale for the Beaufort is planned for the following year. It is good news for Alaska's oil and gas industry.
"We believe that offshore oil and gas is the next step for oil and gas in Alaska. And the first step is access," says Kara Moriarty, executive director of Alaska's Oil and Gas Association.
The proposed plan designates some areas off limits. But that protection is not good enough for opponents. Lois Epstein with The Wilderness Society says offshore drilling is moving forward too fast and Alaska is not prepared for effective clean-up in the event of an oil spill.
"We need certain things in place. We need better science that is comprehensive in terms of developing a pace line. We need better clean-up technologies and we also need better oversight and regulations that make sure all operators are doing a good job. We're not there yet," says Epstein.
Salazar's announcement comes while Shell Oil completes its final steps before it can begin drilling. On Monday, the company successfully tested its Arctic capping stack for regulators in Washington's Puget Sound, says spokesman Curtis Smith. The capping stack is an emergency measure in the event of an oil spill.
"We're nearing the end of a very thorough inspection process and hopefully it will lead to the final permits that we need to drill this summer. We feel good about it," says Smith.
The federal government is expected to announce the finalized plan for offshore drilling on Thursday.