Tags: Barack Obama | Bristol Bay | alaska | conservation | oil | gas

Obama Closes Alaska's Bristol Bay to Oil, Gas Interests

By    |   Wednesday, 17 December 2014 12:06 PM

In an effort to build a legacy on the environment, President Barack Obama used his executive authority on Tuesday to designate the federal waters of Alaska's Bristol Bay off-limits for oil and gas leasing for an indeterminate period of time.

In videotaped remarks from the Oval Office, Obama said, "Hey, everybody. Earlier today I took action to make sure one of America's greatest natural resources and a massive economic engine not only for Alaska, but for America, is preserved for future generations."

The waters, he said, "are too special and too valuable to auction off to the highest bidder."

Story continues below video.

The president's action means the waters of Bristol Bay will not be available for oil and gas leasing unless a future president reverses his order.

Commercial fishing in Bristol Bay generates $2 billion annually and provides 40 percent of the nation's seafood, according to the White House.

The move has drawn little opposition from oil and gas interests, primarily because the announcement essentially constitutes a continuation of a seven-year moratorium on oil and gas leases that the administration put in place in 2010, but which expire in 2017.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski cited the "lack of interest by industry and the public divide over allowing oil and gas exploration in this area," as the reasons she is not opposing the moratorium.

However, the GOP senator did express unease with the administration's "familiar and frustrating pattern" of ignoring the real concerns of Alaskans.

"It is incredibly frustrating that this administration looks at Alaska — with oil production at a fraction of the level it could be at, and with low oil prices about to force steep across-the-board budget cuts — and decides that conservation is our most pressing need.

"We are not asking to produce everywhere — but right now, we are not being allowed to produce anywhere," said Murkowski, the state's senior senator.

While Obama's move has met with little controversy, several other pending actions are matters of fierce debate, reports the National Journal.

The Department of Interior soon will have to weigh in on the next auctions of offshore-drilling leases, all of which environmentalists want shelved. Interior is putting together a five-year plan for oil-and-gas lease sales for the years 2017-22.

Perhaps the most controversial issue is the anticipated veto by the Environmental Protection Agency of plans to develop Alaska's Pebble Mine.

Last month, U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland issued an order preventing the EPA from moving forward on its decision until a lawsuit filed by the Pebble Limited Partnership, the group behind the mine, was decided, The News Miner reported.

The lawsuit is seeking documents related to discussions the EPA had with environmental activists and mine opponents while they were crafting an environmental impact review of the Pebble Mine, according to Alaska Dispatch News.

The ruling, which prohibits the EPA from communicating with outside interests, including environmental groups, was welcomed by Pebble's supporters but with the recognition that it is only a temporary reprieve.

"We now have the opportunity to conduct discovery regarding all relevant documents and to conduct depositions of the major people involved in this process against Pebble.

"The documents we have been able to review thus far disclose more than 500 contacts between EPA and activists," said CEO Tom Collier, according to The Daily Caller.

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President Barack Obama used his executive authority on Tuesday to designate the federal waters of Alaska's Bristol Bay off-limits for oil and gas leasing for an indeterminate period of time.
Bristol Bay, alaska, conservation, oil, gas
Wednesday, 17 December 2014 12:06 PM
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