January 09, 2007
"It is gratifying that the federal government is again looking north to Alaska to provide the energy our nation needs," Palin said. "Development in the Bristol Bay region could provide the jobs, economic diversification and energy the people of this region need. If we can be sure it will not threaten the fisheries that are the foundation of the region's economy and way of life, I'm all for it."
"We, in Alaska, have a strong track record of providing nearly 20 percent of our nation's domestic supply of oil energy for decades and it is clear that we have the resources and capabilities to continue doing so for decades more," Palin said.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced that the Minerals Management Service, responsible for mineral development more than three miles offshore, would include the North Aleutians Basin in its proposed 2007-2012 five-year leasing plan. That plan also includes lease sales in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
The North Aleutians basin had been blocked from federal sales since 1990 under U.S. Senate appropriations rules, repealed in 2003, and under presidential moratorium lifted today. Leasing would be limited to the area offered in 1988's Lease Sale 92, which was cancelled and the $96 million in lease bids returned to bidders following the Exxon Valdez oil spill. After local governments, Native organizations and residents sought state help in diversifying their economy, the state held a successful onshore lease sale in October 2005. The state raised $1.26 million in bids from both industry giant Shell and an independent oil company, demonstrating industry interest in the area.
At the request of local residents after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Senator Stevens sought a provision in the Fiscal Year 1990 Interior Appropriations bill prohibiting the Department of Interior from expending funds to conduct offshore oil and gas preleasing, leasing, and related activities in the North Aleutian Basin (also known as Bristol Bay). President George H. W. Bush subsequently issued an executive order prohibiting leasing, which President Bill Clinton extended through 2012.
In 2003, dire economic conditions in the region prompted local boroughs, Native organizations, and Bristol Bay residents to express their support for the removal of the congressional moratorium. Pursuant to their request, Senator Stevens worked with his Senate colleagues to remove language from the Fiscal Year 2004 Interior Appropriations bill prohibiting funding for new leasing activity in Bristol Bay. The removal of this provision, however, did not immediately open the area for oil and gas exploration and development. The presidential moratorium remained in effect until President George W. Bush's decision to lift it.
Senator Ted Stevens said, "President Bush's decision to lift this moratorium is welcome news for people who live and work in the Bristol Bay region." Stevens said, "The federal government, the State of Alaska, and local communities will now be able to work together to evaluate oil and gas potential in this area. The decision gives residents of Bristol Bay the opportunity to look for new energy sources within their own region to meet their needs."
"Imported farmed salmon, high energy costs, and the area's remoteness have limited economic development and contributed to high poverty in the region," said Senator Stevens. "The possibility of oil and gas development in Bristol Bay presents a series of new opportunities to the people of this region. Equally important, offshore development in Bristol Bay will occur under stringent environmental safeguards, using the most advanced technology available to help ensure our fisheries are protected. I will continue to work with residents in this region to ensure their needs are met."
Governor Palin said, "As a member of a Bristol Bay commercial fishing family myself - I stand with the people of the region in insisting that any development must recognize and protect the value of the fishing industry."
Palin noted that federal lease sales would only occur following a public process that thoroughly studies environmental impacts, weighs them against the value of the region's environment and renewable resources, and provides for public examination, review and comment at every step along the way. "I have personally spoken with Secretary Kempthorne and he has assured me that no leasing would proceed until an EIS is completed."
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