Wednesday, December 17, 2014

President Obama declares Bristol Bay area in Alaska off limits for oil and gas drilling

President Obama announced on Tuesday that oil and gas drilling is off limits across a stretch of 52,000 square miles along Alaska's coast in the Bristol Bay area, Dan Joling reports for The Associated Press. "The president said in a video announcement that Bristol Bay and nearby waters, covering an area roughly the size of Florida, would be withdrawn from consideration for petroleum leases. He called Bristol Bay one of the country’s great natural resources and a massive economic engine." Advocates of the oil and gas industry have not publicly criticized the move.

Obama said the area is responsible for about $2 billion in the fishing industry and supplies the U.S. with about 40 percent of wild-caught salmon, Joling writes. Obama said, “It’s something that’s too precious for us to be putting out to the highest bidder." (Seattle Times map)

The president and then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar "announced in March 2010 that a planned 2011 lease sale in what the Interior Department refers to as the North Aleutian Basin would be canceled," Joling writes. "Salazar cited a lack of infrastructure and the bay’s valuable natural resources. The temporary withdrawal was set to expire in 2017. Obama’s decision Tuesday under authority of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953 withdraws the area permanently."

Environmentalists say the move will also protect crab, herring, halibut and groundfish—including the lucrative pollock fishery—and salmon that are returning to the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers through waters that had been considered for drilling, Lisa Demer reports for Alaska Dispatch News.

Environmentalist say the decision "effectively provides permanent protection to Bristol Bay and the waters north of the Aleutian Islands, though they acknowledge another president could reverse course," Demer writes. "The waters at issue stretch over approximately 32.5 million acres in what’s called the North Aleutian Basin Planning Area, which includes Bristol Bay." (Read more)

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