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Associated Press: Alaskans oppose drilling offshore, not in the refuge

September 1, 2006

KAKTOVIK, Alaska — Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne made his first visit to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Thursday and was greeted by local leaders concerned not about drilling in the refuge, but by plans for offshore oil development. Tribal leaders said offshore drilling in the Beaufort Sea would interfere with their whaling.

Kempthorne, on a three-day tour of Alaska’s North Slope, visited Kaktovik, the only village in the refuge.

The meetings were private, but several participants said the major subject of discussion was concern over possible oil drilling in the Beaufort Sea, where Shell Corp. has obtained a number of drilling leases from the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service. Lon Sonsalla, mayor of the town of 260 residents, said that people are worried about Shell’s plans.

“This isn’t just aesthetics out there. … People depend on it for food,” he said in an interview, referring to the whaling that many of the people in town consider a tradition each year.

The fall whaling season starts on Monday.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been the focus of a 25-year battle over whether to tap vast oil reserves under a coastal plain along the Beaufort Sea.

Sonsalla said he was not opposed to oil development in the coastal strip as long as the town has some say in how it’s done.

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