The Hill: Murkowski, Begich back Obama’s Arctic drilling push

President Obama’s new plan for accelerating Alaskan oil drilling won quick praise Saturday from the state’s Senate delegation, which has been at odds with the White House over what the lawmakers call federal roadblocks to development in their state.

“I’ve been strongly critical of this Administration’s policies on domestic production, but today I want to give credit to the President,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

President Obama used his weekly address to announce annual lease sales in Alaska’s onshore National Petroleum Reserve; an interagency task force to streamline permitting for Alaskan offshore drilling projects; and extension of certain offshore leases where development has been delayed.

“Permitting is the single greatest obstacle to domestic production and the President’s establishment of a new team to coordinate work on Alaska drilling permits is a positive development, as is the extension of leases in the Gulf of Mexico and Chukchi Sea,” Murkowski said.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) also praised the announcements. “I consider the President’s address today a positive step forward and a commitment that he is ready to put words into action. His decision to establish a team to coordinate work on Alaska drilling permits is excellent news for our state and is the essence of my Arctic [Outer Continental Shelf] Coordinator legislation that would do just that,” Begich said in a statement.

Begich has been pushing a bill that would create a new federal office to knock down what he alleges have been undue hurdles placed before oil companies – notably Royal Dutch Shell – that want to drill off Alaska’s coast.

Begich also praised the plan for annual lease sales in the onshore National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), a 23-million acre area on Alaska's North Slope set aside in the 1920s as a source of domestic oil. But it’s also an ecologically fragile region teeming with wildlife that environmentalists fear will be harmed if drilling proceeds.

“The President’s continued support for an annual lease program in the NPR-A is good news. However, to be meaningful, his administration will have to demonstrate a commitment to removing roadblocks preventing development at ConocoPhillips’ stalled CD-5 project, just over the reserve boundary,” Begich said.



Source: By Ben Geman. Originally Published on May 14, 2011