US unveils final drilling plan, limits Arctic sales

Fri Jun 29, 2012 2:27am IST

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* Drilling plan called "too restrictive" by industry
    * Green groups see it as "risky" so soon after Gulf spill

    By Russ Blinch
    WASHINGTON, June 28 (Reuters) - U.S. oil companies will be
allowed to drill in more areas of the Gulf of Mexico but won
only limited access to the Arctic under the final version of the
Obama Administration's five year drilling plan that was slammed
by industry and some environmentalists.
    The 2012-2017 plan calls for three potential lease sales in 
areas offshore Alaska but the auctions would not be held until
the final years of the plan because of environmental concerns
about operating in the Arctic.
    "Put simply, this program opens the vast majority of known
offshore oil and gas resources for development over the next
five years and includes a cautious but forward-looking leasing
strategy for the Alaska Arctic," said Secretary Ken Salazar. 
    The plan was called "too restrictive" by the American
Petroleum Institute and criticized by Republican lawmakers who
are sure to blast the drilling blueprint on the campaign trail.
    "Today, the Obama Administration has announced a bleak
future for American energy production by keeping 85 percent of
America's offshore areas under lock and key and refusing to open
any new areas to drilling," said Doc Hastings, Republican
chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.  
     The plan calls for 15 potential lease sales in six offshore
areas, including in the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico, and
the portion of the Eastern Gulf not currently under
Congressional moratorium. 
    The oil and gas industry has criticized the Obama
administration for tightening regulation of offshore drilling
since the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The
spill also prompted the administration to backtrack on plans to
open areas off the Atlantic coast to drilling.
     Environmentalists criticized the new plan as risky,
expanding drilling so soon after the explosion of BP's Deepwater
Horizon platform that sent oil gushing uncontrolled into the
Gulf of Mexico for three months.
     "The plan is too aggressive, too broad and too rushed,"
said Regan Nelson, at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We
believe an array of critical safety and environmental issues
must be addressed first before America puts more coastal areas
at risk."
     The plan is subject to a 60-day review in Congress before
final approval. It is similar to an earlier version released by
the Interior Department late last year.
    Royal Dutch Shell is in the last stages of federal
permitting to drill offshore Alaska in the Beaufort and Chukchi
seas this summer in a plan that has been strongly opposed by
environmentalists.
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