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Obama to Open Controversial Atlantic Region to Offshore Drilling

A mere day after the Interior Department announced it would permanently block drilling in much of the Arctic Refuge by designating it as wilderness, it proposed allowing drilling in the Gulf, along Atlantic coast, and surprisingly, offshore Alaska.
January 28, 2015, 7am PST | Irvin Dawid
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The regions that drew the most attention were off the mid and south-Atlantic seaboard, as they are considered the most controversial.

The proposal sets off "a mammoth battle over the environmental effects and raising the question of how much oil and gas lies under the sea and whether it’s even economical for it to be drilled," writes Sean Cockerham, reporter in the Washington D.C. bureau of McClatchy newspapers, covering energy, natural resources, and politics.

The proposal will incite a furious debate over just what American places are considered too special for drilling rigs – pitting environmental groups against industry as well as some coastal towns against their state leaders, who see jobs and the potential for billions in revenue.

The lease sale by the Department of Interior (DOI) is "off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia (is) part of its new offshore leasing plan, which covers 2017 to 2022," notes Cockerham. Florida was intentionally not included, "a move hailed by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida," writes Cockerham for the Miami Herald.

“They left us alone for the last five years and it looks like they’re going to leave us alone for the next five years,” said Nelson, who said he and other lawmakers lobbied the Obama administration to not allow such drilling off the Florida coast.

DOI is required every five years to produce an oil leasing plan, writes Amy Harder who reports on energy policy for The Wall Street Journal’s Washington, D.C., bureau.  She notes that the last lease plan in March 2010 included a site off Virginia that was ultimately scrapped in the wake of the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

"Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, in a statement, called it 'a balanced proposal that would make available nearly 80 percent of the undiscovered technically recoverable resources, while protecting areas that are simply too special to develop,'" writes Krishnadev Calamur for NPR.

While the Atlantic region drew the most attention in the Draft Proposed Program of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), it contains only one lease sale, while the Gulf of Mexico has ten and the Arctic Ocean has three, according to DOI's press release.

The Arctic lease sales include one each in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Cook Inlet Planning Areas offshore Alaska. At the same time, though, to the chagrin of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and the energy industry, President Obama designated 9.8 million acres of the two seas off limits from consideration for future oil and gas leasing," according to The White House Blog, as part of his overall plan to "protect untouched marine wilderness in Alaska."

On Tuesday, we posted President Obama's proposal to protect nearly 13 million acres of the Arctic Refuge by designating it as wilderness, thus permanently banning energy development.

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Published on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 in McClatchy Washington Bureau
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