ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is on his way back to Washington, D.C. after a brief trip to Alaska. Salazar has a lot to consider over the next few months as he decides what to do about offshore drilling in the Arctic.
Salazar did not indicate one way or the other if he plans to allow drilling next summer, but he did lay out an initial timeline. His visit was originally planned to last 10 days, but the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico -- the worst oil spill in U.S. history -- quickly shifted priorities and plans.
The Interior Department put a hold on deepwater drilling immediately following the Gulf of Mexico spill, and separately decided not to give final approval for Shell Oil’s planned exploratory offshore drilling in the Arctic this summer.
“Until we are confident drilling can be conducted in Beaufort and Chukchi seas, we will not be allowing that program to move forward,” Salazar said.
Salazar says the change is due to questions the Gulf spill raised about the effectiveness of blowout preventers and spill response plans.
“What the secretary is saying is these are linked, but formally the moratorium is for deep water,” said Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes.
Salazar says he would have to let Shell know by early next year if the company will be allowed to resume drilling plans.
The Interior Department says it's aware that Shell needs a few months’ notice in order to mobilize its equipment for the brief summer drilling season. But Salazar says he's waiting for a number of Interior Department reports due in the next several weeks, which present a comprehensive picture of drilling safety and spill response.
“Our goal is to develop the gold standard by which oil and gas companies develop oil and gas resources in the oceans of our nation,” Salazar said.
When asked if Thursday's Gulf of Mexico oil platform fire would further delay his timeline for a decision, Salazar said it probably wouldn’t.
“Industrial accidents happen, and it was obviously an industrial accident that happened there, and there's an investigation that's underway,” Salazar said.
Salazar spent just 48 hours in Alaska during his visit, including a full day on the North Slope spent touring oil fields and holding a town hall meeting in Barrow.
The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, says it's glad to see Salazar visiting the Arctic. The group continues to say there is no way to safely drill off Alaska's coast.
Shell Oil says it had a good meeting with Salazar, and that the company has done everything asked of it by the Interior Department as it waits for permission to drill.
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