Alaska oil and gas drilling ban lifted

Alaska oil and gas drilling ban lifted

President Bush lifted the drilling ban Tuesday for Alaska’s Bristol Bay, clearing the way for the Interior Department to open the fish-rich waters to oil and natural gas development.

Alaska officials as well as local communities had asked for the ban to be lifted, but environmentalists have warned against drilling in the bay, which is also a major fishing area for salmon, crab and cod.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said one or two lease sales in about 5.6 million acres of Bristol Bay will be considered for leasing in the department’s upcoming five-year 2007-12 lease plan.

Separately, Bush lifted a drilling moratorium in an area of the central Gulf of Mexico known as Lease Area 181, making that area available to drilling.

The Gulf waters acted upon by the president is a small part of a much larger 8.2 million acres that were approved for oil and gas development by Congress last month in one of its last acts before adjournment.

“There will be significant opportunities for study and public comment before any oil and gas development could take place in these areas,” said Kempthorne.

The Bristol Bay waters were set aside for protection by Congress 1990, but the ban was lifted in 2003 at the request of Sen. Ted Stevens (news, bio, voting record), R-Alaska, who argued that the area’s oil and natural gas could be developed while still protecting the fisheries.

But a separate presidential drilling ban was not to expire until 2012.

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