Secretary of the Interior Salazar Visits Alaska

On September 4, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes wrapped up a three-day trip to Alaska. The two officials met with locals, Inupiat Eskimos, and representatives from the oil industry to discuss both oil drilling and environmental conservation on the North Slope and in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. The Beaufort Sea is estimated to hold 8 million barrels of recoverable oil, while the Chukchi Sea has 15 billion barrels.

Salazar and Hayes first visited Prudhoe Bay, where they learned about plans for oil exploration and drilling on the North Slope. They then toured the coast of the Beaufort Sea by plane to look at potential oil and gas sites, the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The next day, Salazar met with Shell officials in Deadwood to discuss the company’s proposed projects. Then, in Barrow, Alaska, Salazar held a town hall. According to a press release from the Department of the Interior’s website, “North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta, leaders of the Native Village of Barrow, Inupiat Community leaders, and representatives from the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission” were all present.

His visit to Alaska’s North Slope complete, Salazar proceeded to travel south to Anchorage. At a press conference, he said that he would not to allow any drilling in the area until all of the reports on the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the risks of offshore drilling have been received. He also did not say whether Shell would be able to drill exploratory wells in the summer of 2011. Salazar stated,

“We will be making that decision in the several months ahead.”

In addition, when asked whether Shell would be able to drill next summer, he responded,

“I don’t know today whether I can give you the answer to that.”

Salazar also voiced specific concerns about drilling in the Arctic. He stated, “If you look at the Chukchi, nothing or very little is known about the reservoir pressure that would be encountered…If you look at the Chukchi, it would be very difficult to mount the kind of spill response that was mounted in the Gulf.”

Alaskans have mixed opinions on offshore drilling. Many are in support of the industry, as it provides the state with jobs and revenue. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) stated,

“The administration knowingly destroyed 23,000 jobs in a time of nationwide economic instability for no apparent safety or environmental benefit.”

Furthermore, she said that the decision to place a moratorium on offshore drilling “killed what would have been a critical exploration season this summer and sidelined some 600 Alaskan jobs…To this day there has been no formal explanation as to why or how Alaska’s activity was suspended in reaction to an accident thousands of miles away.”

However, offshore drilling has just lost a major advocate of offshore drilling in the Senate now that Murkowski has conceded after losing the Republican primary by 2,000 votes to Joe Miller. She was the senior Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. I was unable to find any statements from Miller regarding his position on drilling, but as a conservative Republican supported by Sarah Palin, it’s likely that he does support the industry. Still, even if elected, he will not be a senior Republican sitting on a committee any time soon.

News Links

“Alaskans sound off on offshore drilling,” Juneau Empire

“US Interior chief voices doubt on Arctic drilling,” Reuters Africa

“Salazar: Arctic oil drilling must wait,” LA Times Greenspace Blog

“Salazar: No decision yet on Arctic drilling,” Anchorage Daily News

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