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Shell Alaska offshore drilling put on hold


Obama to Extend Drilling Moratorium


WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to announce Thursday that he is extending the moratorium on permits to drill new deepwater wells for six more months and will delay or cancel specific projects off the coasts of Alaska and Virginia and in the western Gulf of Mexico, a White House official said.

Mr. Obama, who will discuss the decisions at a midday White House news conference, is taking the actions in response to the initial 30-day safety review of offshore drilling ordered after a BP rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 men and opening a gusher of oil that has yet to be stopped.

The latest moves come amid deepening frustration and criticism of the administration’s handling of the crisis. The president’s order is intended to half further permits for new wells for six months, delay planned exploration in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the coast of Alaska, cancel the August lease sale in the western Gulf and cancel the lease sale off the coast of Virginia, the White House official said.

The Virginia lease sale had drawn environmental concerns and objections from the Defense Department. The Alaska project will be delayed for six months while a new presidential commission studies how to regulate offshore drilling.

Mr. Obama will also announce standards to strengthen oversight of the drilling industry and enhance safety as the commission opens its inquiry. The commission will be led by former Senator Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida, and William K. Reilly, who was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under the first President Bush.

One major oil company, Shell Oil, had been hoping to begin a controversial exploratory drilling project this summer in the Arctic Ocean, which the new restrictions would put on hold.

Senator Mark Begich, Democrat of Alaska and a staunch supporter of drilling in the Arctic, said he was informed of the new restrictions by the Interior Department. Mr. Begich said he was frustrated because the decision “will cause more delays and higher costs for domestic oil and gas production to meet the nation’s energy needs.”

“The Gulf of Mexico tragedy has highlighted the need for much stronger oversight and accountability of oil companies working offshore, but Shell has updated its plans at the administration’s request and made significant investments to address the concerns raised by the Gulf spill,” Senator Begich said in a statement. “They make an effective case that we can safely explore for oil and gas this summer in the Arctic.”

The White House could not be immediately reached for comment late Wednesday night.

In his statement, Mr. Begich argued that the administration’s decision would cost Alaska jobs and money, and force the country “to export more dollars and import more oil from some unfriendly places, jeopardizing our economic and national security.”

Mr. Begich has been pushing for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a protected a 19 million-acre area along the northeastern coast of Alaska, for some time. Earlier this month, he wrote a joint letter with two other Alaska congressmen urging the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to consider oil and gas exploration in a special, 1.5 million-acre section of the refuge called the “10-02” area, named after the section of a bill that expanded the refuge three decades ago.

“New technology can now facilitate both a better understanding of the oil and gas reserves within the 10-02 area as well as enable more environmentally responsible development,” he stated in the joint letter earlier this month. “Directional drilling techniques would allow extraction of oil and gas from some of the 10-02 area with no surface disturbance.”


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