Sen. Murkowski Responds to Withdrawal of North Aleutian Basin from Five-Year Leasing Plan

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today issued the following statement on President Obama’s decision to withdraw Alaska’s North Aleutian Basin from potential oil and natural gas activity.

“Given the lack of interest by industry and the public divide over allowing oil and gas exploration in this area, I am not objecting to this decision at this time,” Murkowski said. “I think we all recognize that these are some of our state’s richest fishing waters.  What I do not understand is why this decision could not be made within the context of the administration’s upcoming plan for offshore leasing – or at least announced at the same time.”

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Tuesday announced the administration was withdrawing the federal waters of the North Aleutian Basin, located off the Alaska Peninsula, from consideration for oil and gas leasing for an indeterminate period of time. The prohibition will remain in place until lifted by the Obama administration or a future administration.

Murkowski also expressed her strong concerns that the Obama Administration is still dramatically out of step with Alaska’s most pressing needs.

“It is incredibly frustrating that this administration looks at Alaska – with oil production at a fraction of the level it could be at, and with low oil prices about to force steep across-the-board budget cuts – and decides that conservation is our most pressing need,” Murkowski said. “We are not asking to produce everywhere – but right now, we are not being allowed to produce anywhere.  Despite strong support, we are seeing development blocked in the Chukchi, the Beaufort, in NPR-A, and on the Coastal Plain. What we need are decisions to open lands and waters in Alaska, not the familiar and frustrating pattern of shutting everything down.”

The withdrawal will prevent the federal waters of Bristol Bay from being offered for oil and gas leasing under the Interior Department’s next five-year plan for development of the Outer Continental Shelf, which is expected to be released in a matter of weeks. The Interior Department said its prohibition does not affect commercial fishing or other potential economic activity in the region. Interior previously dropped the North Aleutian Basin from its 2012-2017 plan, so today’s announcement largely represents the continuation of an existing policy.

“I also believe the Interior Department must continue to invest in baseline environmental research to determine the health of fishery and crab resources in the region so that future administrations can make informed decisions,” Murkowski said.