Interior plan targets Arctic for off-shore drilling
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TUESDAY, JULY 24, 2001

In a move which may pit development-friendly Inupiat Eskimos against the Bush administration, the Department of Interior on Monday proposed opening up areas off the coast of Alaska to oil and gas drilling.

Under a five-year draft management plan offered by Secretary Gale Norton and the Minerals Management Service, a number of areas in Alaska are being targeted for development. Included are parts of the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea, which are located off the coast of Alaska's North Slope and are traditional Inupiat hunting grounds.

While many Inupiats have been overwhelmingly supportive of the Bush administration's plan to allow oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), they have consistently fought against any off-shore development. Much like the Gwich'in Nation fear land drilling will hurt the Porcupine caribou herd, they fear disturbing the sea will damage the bowhead whale on which they depend for subsistence.

Opposition extends to any type of off-shore, as evident at hearing held in Barrow last week. Oil companies want to build a pipeline that would move natural gas from Prudhoe Bay to Canada.

But since the pipeline would run through the Beaufort Sea, a number of Inupiat Eskimos are urging the companies to abandon the plan. The North Slope Borough, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and Arctic Slope Regional Corp., an Alaska Native Corporation chartered under federal law, all voiced their opposition to the proposal.

In particular, the Whaling Commission, which oversees Eskimo hunts, has been active in opposing drilling in recent years. In February, the Commission passed a resolution to support drilling in ANWR so long as the government kept away from the the sea. The Commission has sued to prevent test wells from being drilled in the Beaufort Sea as well.

Off-shore development in recent months has become a controversial topic for the Bush administration. After facing pressure from Florida officials and lawmakers, Norton earlier this months scaled back plans to allow drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

That sale, in an area known as Section 181, is set to occur later this year after a public comment period. It is included in the draft plan the Interior issued yesterday, which is also up for public review.

Drilling in Alaska wouldn't occur until 2004 at the earliest. The Interior is proposing a lease sale for parts of Bueafort Sea in 2003, with other off-shore regions following as late as 2007.

Before the five-year management plan is adopted, the Interior will issue an environmental impact statement later this fall. Norton has to approve the final plan, which is set to go into effect next July.

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Relevant Links:
Minerals Management Service -
Arctic Slope Regional Corp -

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Alaska Natives don't want off-shore pipeline (7/20)
House panel approves Arctic drilling (7/18)
Interior scales back Gulf of Mexico drilling (7/6)