The decision essentially extends an informal moratorium that Mr. Obama had set shortly after the BP accident on April 20 that led to the spewing of millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The new restrictions would suspend new offshore drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico and off the North Slope Alaska until the cause of the accident is determined and stricter safety and environmental safeguards are imposed.
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. Sen. 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, Senator 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.”
Senator Begich has been pushing for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — a protected, 19- million-square-mile 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 U.S. 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.”