Good call on exploration

Posted: Friday, April 02, 2010

President Barack Obama charted a good direction for his administration's energy policy last week -- for Alaska and the nation.

The president's new policy extends offshore drilling in the southern Atlantic coastline and the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The policy also modifies oil lease policies in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Some portions of those waters were removed from the current lease schedule, but remain on the next schedule beginning in 2012. Better news: Existing leases got the go-ahead. Shell Oil hopes to drill three exploration wells in the Chukchi this summer.

The policy also allows continued exploration in Cook Inlet: Excellent news for us here on the Peninsula.

At the same time, the waters of Bristol Bay, one of the richest commercial fisheries in the world, are now off limits for any exploration. The administration removed those waters from the current five-year leasing schedule and did not add them for the next schedule in 2012.

"I want to emphasize," the president said Wednesday, "... this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies on homegrown fuels and clean energy."

We agree with that sentiment.

Naturally, there are critics on both sides of the plan. Environmentalists heralded the announcement as the end of polar bears and whales on the North Slope. Some, like Gov. Sean Parnell and Rep. Don Young, say the policy doesn't go far enough, since portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi were left in "further scientific study" limbo and a drilling moratorium for the West Coast was left in place.

We'd agree that we shouldn't ignore potential for further exploration. But we can't help but agree with Alaska's senators, Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, who, in a joint press release, praised the policy as a step in the right direction. Offshore drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort hasn't been banished entirely. Existing leases are still in place. And Alaska's greatest fishery was recognized for it irreplaceable value.

Yes, it's a compromise. But it's one we find agreeable -- for now.

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