January 10, 2007 - By H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- President Bush lifted a ban Tuesday on oil and gas drilling in
Alaska's Bristol Bay, an area known for its endangered whales and the
world's largest run of sockeye salmon.
The action clears the way for the Interior Department to open 5.6 million
acres of the fish-rich waters northwest of the Alaska Peninsula as part of
its next five-year leasing plan.
"There will be significant opportunities for study and public comment before
any oil and gas development could take place," said Interior Secretary Dirk
Kempthorne. But he said the bay, as well as expanded drilling in the Gulf of
Mexico, "will enhance America's energy security."
Interior's tentative plans call for Bristol Bay leases being made available
in 2010 and 2012, pending the environmental reviews.
Kempthorne said Alaska state officials as well as some local and native
groups had asked that the ban be ended to spur the local fishing-dominated
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who in 2003 got Congress to lift its moratorium
on drilling in the bay, called the president's decision "welcome news for
people who live and work" there.
Alaska's newly elected Republican governor, Sarah Palin, welcomed the
possibility of additional oil and gas production and promised "a very
aggressive role in making sure our fisheries are protected."
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