* Drilling plan could spark criticism from GOP, industry
* U.S. Gulf Coast still important exploration area
By Russ Blinch
WASHINGTON, June 26 The Obama Administration
will release its final, five-year blueprint for offshore
drilling o n T hursday and is expected to offer a go-slow approach
to Arctic drilling and keep restricting rigs from operating off
the east and west coasts of the country.
The drilling plan is likely to draw criticism from
Republicans on the campaign trail as too restrictive, while
sparking concern from environmentalists that drilling off Alaska
is too risky.
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.
The Interior department said the plan to be unveiled on
Thursday was part of President Barack Obama's "all-of-the-above"
strategy that also seeks to stimulate the renewable energy
The plan runs to 2017 and is expected to be similar to an
earlier version released by the Interior Department late last
year, which also continues to emphasize drilling off the Gulf
Coast, according to Oceana, an environmental advocacy group.
But the new plan would likely delay the Alaskan lease sales
to the final years of the plan in order to allow for more
scientific and environmental studies.
Environmentalists like the idea of more studies but still
strongly oppose drilling in the Arctic where the concern is the
environment is too harsh and dangerous for exploration,
especially after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf.
"The Arctic is the worst possible place where we can be
producing oil and gas," said Jacqueline Savitz, the North
American vice president for Oceana.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently flagged that Alaska
would remain an important energy source for the United States,
but cautioned drilling must proceed slowly to protect the
"We believe we have the rules and the framework we have in
place to move forward with cautious exploration," Salazar told
Reuters during a visit to Norway. "However, development of the
Arctic would still be many years away and additional science has
to be developed. And the infrastructure necessary for
development is still years away."
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