WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration cautiously offered up more areas in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska's coast to oil and gas drilling Tuesday but didn't go far enough to satisfy Republicans pushing to greatly expand drilling as a way to create jobs and wean the country off foreign oil.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar unveiled a proposal to hold 15 lease sales for areas in the Gulf of Mexico, including two in the eastern Gulf, and three off Alaska's coast in the time frame from 2012 to 2017. The sales off Alaska, where native groups and environmentalists have objected to drilling, would be the first since 2008. They would be held late in the five-year time frame to allow for scientific evaluations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, which Interior officials called a "frontier" for drilling. And they would be targeted to avoid areas with cultural and environmental sensitivities, officials said.
"The approach we are taking there is a cautious one," Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes said of the Arctic leases. "We are aware of the substantial issues associated with major production."
In the western and central Gulf, by contrast, the proposal puts all unleased acreage up for sale. There, drilling is more commonplace, infrastructure is well developed, and spill response plans have improved since the Gulf oil spill disaster in 2010.
The drilling plans are the latest iteration of President Barack Obama's strategy for energy production, which has continually shifted to account for political realities, high gasoline prices and environmental disasters such as last year's Gulf oil spill. Weeks before that disaster, the White House had talked of expanding offshore drilling off Alaska, in the Atlantic and throughout the eastern Gulf, in part to help move stalled climate-change legislation through Congress. It pulled back late last year after the blowout of BP's Macondo well caused the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.