Obama to allow more Arctic drilling

The Obama administration will go ahead with more drilling in Arctic waters, though at a pace that allows for more research before additional permits are granted.

The administration will hold new lease sales for oil companies to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas just north of Alaska, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters.

But the new leases won't be issued until 2016, allowing more time so that nations bordering the Arctic can identify the region's resources and figure out which areas need to be protected.

"These resources, if developed safely, can be an important component to the all-of-the-above energy strategy," said Salazar.

The plan is apparently designed to please both environmentalists and drilling advocates, though it risks irking everyone.

Of ice and oil in Alaska

Industry types would prefer a much faster timetable to get the drilling going, while many opponents want it halted permanently.

The administration is hoping the move will defray criticism that it's not moving fast enough to allow more domestic energy production.

But that seems unlikely.

"Only now that excuses are running out are they moving forward as slowly as possible," said a spokeswoman for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Obama has attempted to take a middle-of-the-road approach to energy development throughout his presidency.

He's resumed leasing in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP (BP) disaster, plans to allow drilling in the Arctic, and has done little to restrict hydraulic fracturing -- or fracking -- in domestic oil and gas fields despite fears that the process is contaminating ground water.

But the number of permits issued and acres available for drilling have generally been lower under Obama's administration than in George W. Bush's administration, which preceded it.

On Tuesday, Salazar said it's "highly likely" the final permits for Royal Dutch Shell's (RDSA) Arctic drilling operation, set for this summer, will be issued shortly.

Shell won its Arctic leases during the Bush administration, but its final permits to drill have so far not been granted by Obama. Sources expect the final OK to come this week. (SOURCE)


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